Ever found yourself in your darkened living room, with nothing but the hazy glow of your phone screen for company, only to look up, bleary-eyed and realise that two hours have passed? You’ve fallen down an Insta-vortex (ex-boyfriend’s new girlfriend’s best friend’s dog groomer sister) and it’s ended in you scrolling through an entire feed of dogs with quirky haircuts. With that last doleful bichon frise you face the stark reality that you’ve frittered away an entire evening. Of course, if anyone asks you to commit to anything regularly midweek, you’ll tell them, sincerely, that you’re, like, “so busy”.
It wasn’t always this way. When we were younger, free time meant bicycle adventures, tree-climbing and mammoth Monopoly sessions. Sure, that was pre-jobs and pre-adulthood, but are we really that busy? And how hard is it to bring something of those halcyon days back into our lives?
Of course, real downtime is a rarity when we have high-pressure jobs to negotiate. But even when we do drag ourselves away from our desks or carve out a free Sunday afternoon, our phones are constantly pinging with updates on everything from the latest Donald Trump clanger to pictures of ‘zany’ outfits for an upcoming hen do. In fact, a recent study found that the average person checks their phone 85 times a day. That’s five hours every day spent browsing the web and using apps; the equivalent to a third of our waking lives. There’s something seriously wrong with this picture.
Enter hobbies, or “experiences that we engage in for no other reason than the simple fact that we enjoy them,” says psychotherapist Hilda Burke. Things that “help us to switch off from distractions and switch on to the present moment.” And while you might argue that two large glasses of red have a similarly involving effect, Burke points out that a hobby shouldn’t trigger a ‘down’ afterwards.
Not only do hobbies broaden our horizons and introduce us to new people and ideas (other than those that scroll down our Twitter feeds) they are also really good for us. By promoting what psychologists call a ‘flow’ state – the level achieved when we’re so absorbed in an activity that we lose all self-consciousness and time seems to fly by – even a ‘Cumberstitching’ class (yes, that’s cross-stitching pictures of Benedict Cumberbatch) can engender a near-meditative state of calm. As a study from The New York Academy of Sciences has proven, just 20 minutes of zoning out a day can do anything from lower anxiety to improve immune function. Add to that, the up-tick in the feel-good neurotransmitter dopamine, which occurs every time we achieve a personal goal (Cumberbatch throw cushion, anyone?) and it’s clear that having a hobby is a quick way to feel better.
So here’s Stylist’s guide to become the Insta-stalked, not the Insta-stalker: from calligraphy and colouring-in to urban rambling and ukulele-making, never has it been so easy to become happier and more fulfilled (and significantly more #smug).
The Stylist hobby guide
If one more night of Netflix is liable to make you a stranger thing, try the suggestions in the gallery below
Words: Alexandra Jones
Photography: Celeste Sloman
Digital Artwork: Justin Metz