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Prescription for Health: Hobbies and Play Time!!

“The best moments in our lives 

are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times . . . 

The best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits

 in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi 

Greetings to all my precious people!

I hope this season of thanksgiving is gracing you and your loved ones with a renewed sense of loving-kindness and self-compassion as the end of year holidays approach.  There is always a sense of heightened stress and crowded schedules and we feel the need to be ‘on point’ for all the necessary coordination of celebrations. There is always SO MUCH TO DO.

BUT … When was the last time you chose to set aside your to-do list and have some fun?  

In our hectic, modern lives, we tend to be so focused on work and family commitments that we never seem to have time for pure fun. Somewhere between childhood and adulthood, we simply stopped playing, because, well, we are older now, we need to be responsible and who has time for fun when the never ending work, family and social commitments pile up on our coordinated family schedules?  And when we do eventually carve out leisure time, it is more likely to be zoned out in front of the TV or computer instead of engaged in the rejuvenating play like we did as children. How and why did we forget our capacity for joy, silliness and the exhilaration of deep laughter? 

Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist and professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, has highlighted the importance of hobbies and play time and their positive impact on mental health in much of his work and talks.  In his 2014 book Give and Take:  A Revolutionary Approach to Success, he discusses the concept of “self-care” emphasizing the significance of hobbies for promoting mental health and suggests that engaging in activities outside of work or daily responsibilities, such as hobbies, is crucial for maintaining well-being. Grant advocates for the idea that hobbies and play time provide a necessary break from the demands of professional life. He mentions that investing time in activities that one enjoys, whether it be painting, playing a musical instrument, gardening, or any other hobby, can alleviate stress and contribute positively to mental health.  

Play could be simply sharing jokes with a coworker, throwing a frisbee on the beach, dressing up on Halloween with your kids, building a snowman in the yard, playing fetch with a dog, acting out charades at a party, or going for a bike ride with no destination in mind. There doesn’t need to be any point to the activity beyond having fun and enjoying yourself. By giving yourself permission to play with the joyful abandon of childhood, you can reap the rewards of continuous health benefits throughout life.

Grant emphasizes the importance of finding a balance between work and leisure, suggesting that dedicating time to hobbies and non-work-related activities can increase overall happiness and productivity.  In his latest book, Hidden Potential:  The Science of Achieving Greater Things, Grant says we underestimate the range of skills we can learn and how good we can become. He offers a new framework for raising aspirations and exceeding expectations by weaving together groundbreaking research and evidence with surprising insights and assures us that we can all improve at improving and when opportunity doesn’t knock, there are ways to build a door. He believes that many of us rule ourselves out of learning more or trying harder because we lack self-belief and strength of character. But character, he says, is not innate – it’s a skill we can learn. If your personality is how you show up on a typical day, then character is how you show up on a hard one.  And in the midst of all of this, there must be the mental and emotional reset that is enhanced by incorporating play time and pursuit of hobbies, a definite antidote for the inevitable burn-out we create.

While Adam Grant’s work spans various topics related to psychology, work, and success, his acknowledgment of the role of hobbies in fostering mental well-being aligns with broader research that highlights the positive impact of leisure activities on overall mental health and life satisfaction.  He developed a set of quizzes that correspond to each book he wrote and all of them are available on his website.  Have fun with this 10 Question Quiz to help get you started as you uncover your Hidden Potential and tap into some of your innate talents and resources.

In another recent research paper published in Nature Medicine, having a hobby was associated with fewer depressive symptoms and higher levels of self-reported health, happiness and life satisfaction.  Hobbies (defined as activities that people engage in during their leisure time for pleasure, such as the arts, crafts, reading, playing games, sports, gardening, volunteering and participating in societies/clubs) involve imagination, novelty, creativity, sensory activation, self-expression, relaxation and cognitive stimulation, all of which are positively related to mental health and wellbeing via psychological, biological, social and behavioral pathways.  

Participation in hobby groups provides social support and reduces loneliness and social isolation.  For this reason, many countries including the UK, Japan and the USA have been promoting hobbies and leisure activities as part of their policies and recommendations to support and improve mental health and wellbeing, with a particular focus on increasing participation among older adults.

According to research conducted by the American Psychological Association, the drag of having too much time on our hands can also negatively affect us. The good news is that hobbies are a great way to spend our time!  Activities such as running, taking a walk, playing sports or attending a workout class have numerous health benefits and generally improve your mental health and well-being. Research shows that having an active hobby can improve your blood pressure, reduce stress and help you sleep better. Additionally, exercise boosts serotonin levels, a “feel-good chemical” that helps you feel happy and more calm.

“Engaging in fun recreational activities helps us avoid boredom and burnout, both of which can lead to depression,” Svetlana Famina, MD, a psychiatrist with the behavioral health institute at Mercy Health – Lourdes Hospital, shares. “Hobbies distract us from negative thoughts, which may generate negative feelings that lead to mental illness.”

Hobbies and play time are essential components of a healthy and fulfilling life, contributing significantly to overall well-being in various ways:

Stress Reduction: Engaging in hobbies and playful activities can reduce stress by providing an outlet for relaxation and enjoyment. Activities like painting, playing a musical instrument, gardening, or playing sports can help in diverting attention away from daily stressors.

Achieving Flow State: Flow state, a concept introduced by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, refers to a state of deep immersion and focus in an activity. Hobbies often facilitate the experience of flow, where individuals are fully absorbed and lose track of time.  Flow state is associated with heightened well-being and increased satisfaction. The intrinsic joy derived from being in a state of flow contributes to a positive mindset, making individuals more resilient to burnout.

Mental Health Benefits: Hobbies and play stimulate the brain and promote mental well-being. They can enhance cognitive abilities, improve memory, and increase creativity by encouraging the brain to think in new ways.

Emotional Balance: Pursuing hobbies and engaging in playful activities can boost mood and emotional resilience. Activities that bring joy and satisfaction release endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals, which can help combat feelings of anxiety or depression.

Social Connection: Many hobbies and playful activities are often shared with others, fostering social connections and a sense of community. Whether it’s joining a club, participating in group sports, or attending hobby-based events, these activities can help build relationships and create a support network.

Sense of Achievement and Purpose: Hobbies provide a sense of accomplishment and purpose. Progressing in a hobby, mastering a skill, or completing a project can boost self-esteem and confidence, leading to a more fulfilling life. Hobbies offer individuals the opportunity to explore activities that match their skill level, creating an ideal environment for flow.

Physical Health: Certain hobbies and playful activities involve physical movement, contributing to better physical health and fitness. Engaging in sports, dancing, hiking, or other physical hobbies helps maintain a healthy body and improves overall well-being.

Stimulation and Learning: Playful activities often involve exploration, experimentation, and learning. Trying new hobbies introduces individuals to different experiences, ideas, and knowledge, promoting personal growth and development.

Mindfulness and Relaxation: Many hobbies, such as yoga, meditation, or crafting, promote mindfulness and relaxation. They allow individuals to focus on the present moment, reducing stress and anxiety.  This mental presence allows individuals to temporarily disconnect from work pressures, fostering a sense of calm and relaxation.

In essence, hobbies and play time are not just leisure activities; they are essential for maintaining a balanced and fulfilling life. Incorporating them into daily routines can significantly enhance overall well-being and quality of life.  So give yourself permission to incorporate a new hobby, or pursue an activity you enjoyed before you were “always busy.”  Allow yourself to replenish your physical and mental energies with enjoyable activities that can support a renewed sense of enthusiasm for your magnificent life.  

We have some ideas for local offerings.  Feel free to share your favorite activities!!

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