Here’s the deal. You’ve got more free time than you’re used to. When you were working full time, or commuting, or some other form of running around, your days off felt much more deserved and justified. They were brimming with relief and abundant mental space. Whether or not you had plans, or wound up being super productive, it didn’t need to feel all that consequential — at the end of the day, you were just happy you didn’t have to go to work.
But if the pandemic has helped us realize anything, it’s that we are living to work, not working to live. The acronym WFH has invaded social media, and an ongoing debate regarding the future of remote employment has beckoned companies to reconsider their infrastructures. Victims of the economic crisis who are receiving additional crisis pay on top of unemployment benefits are potentially pulling in more income than before the recession. In other words, however temporary, our days, weeks and months have been considerably freer than before. Yet, instead of rejoicing over the liberty to return to activities or pastimes, which is typically deemed a luxury of retirement, our nation is grieving.
People don’t know what to do with themselves. Some have taken to social media to decry the mental breakdowns associated with the psychological vacuum of isolation. And this makes perfect sense. We are culture that whips out cell phones the second we have to stand in line for coffee. If we’re at a red light, almost instinctively, without any immediate purpose, we are swiping through our apps or scrolling through Instagram even though it gently reminds us that we’re “all caught up.” During moments when casual, benign self confrontation can be practiced, we’ve normalized disengagement.
It’s not surprising that mental health is at an all time low -- especially considering its cultural absence from legislation -- and it’s only natural that quarantining feels overwhelming77ly taxing: we are unequipped to embrace our solitude and establish relationships with ourselves. Especially since the obligation of work is removed from our schedule, it’s easy to look back at our unused free time and think, “What was I doing?! What had my attention?!”
There are two types of distractions: fruitful and fruitless. Fruitful distractions provide an immediate and long term solution, such as, “I’m bored in line, so I’ll go on my phone, and while I’m there, I’ll reply to that e-mail, or reach out to that friend,” etc. On the other hand, fruitless distractions supply immediate relief, without a goal or intention: that’s the endless scrolling in a weird position on your bed, or tapping into your photo album because it’s something to do, until you realize you’ve been looking at your old photos for over an hour. These are harmless activities, and can often provide relief from our productivity-obsessed world, until they become habitual.
Hobbies and free time don’t feel terribly important when the third commonly asked question, “What do you do?” is most often answered with how someone makes money. As Alex Preston describes in his Quartz article, once the seven day work week was abolished, hobbies were a direct result of the industrial revolution. To get people efficiently completing hard and often physically taxing work, they must have time to rest. As a means of escape and sticking it to the man, people would “seek companionship and self-definition in their leisure pursuits” (Preston). Work demanded the stripping of one’s singular identity and working for the boss: clocking in and clocking out, with no attached responsibility. Now that personal attachment to your employment is a growing norm, however, we’re never clocked out. Crafting time in your life for a hobby is not the same thing as a side hustle, and it’s not completely about the actual task at hand. It’s a great way to establish boundaries and tap into that meditative, even hypnotic state, that might be discomfitingly similar to working a mindless job or driving long distances on the freeway.
In the recent past, if a person had a fairly devoted hobby, it was safe to assume it was most likely a passion that wasn’t lucrative enough to pay the bills; or, that person wasn’t skilled or endowed enough to elevate their hobby to a career. Otherwise, why work a day job? Yet these definitions restrict hobbies from playful, creative exploration.
Our daily habits and activities stem from several intentions: just because someone loves to surf doesn’t mean they rip waves and surf curls. They might be terrible at surfing, but love the learning process or being out in the water. We mythicize that one must already excel at a particular activity in order to claim it as a hobby, or have a birthright passion for doing it, ie. “They skateboarded right out of the womb!”
Hobbies never need to make money or be result-oriented. It’s helpful to create short-term goals for motivation, such as filling a coin book for quarter collectors, but the goal must remain process-oriented. Staying present and solely focusing on the task at hand requires critical attention, positivity, and most importantly, narrative sacrifice. Turning off your brain and completing an activity that’s unrelated to your personal or professional life is not only necessary for your health, but fosters the potential for it to become your primary identity.
Work relationships often develop based on common interests or lifestyles. Since home life and the workplace have significantly been melding over the last few decades, with many people citing work as a main source for companionship, it’s only logical that hobbies and external interests are gaining more sociocultural weight in how we identify. And it isn’t merely picking a hobby and jumping on the bandwagon; it’s about carving out chunks of our ever growing freetime to intentionally devote to a project that fascinates us. So get out there and see what happens, just remember to keep things light and don’t get too serious: obsessive hobbyism is an entirely separate blog.