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
The past year has seen an explosion in any pastime that allows adults to behave like children (case in point: the frenzy that ensued when giant ball-pits opened in London and Manchester last year). Like trampolining: suitably kidult-friendly but also a totally, legitimate Olympic sport. Its popularity has been such that, within the past year, trampoline park Oxygen Freejumping has opened outposts in London, Manchester and Leeds. “Forty per cent of our visitors are adults,” explains Oxygen’s CEO David Stalker. As well as adults-only trampolining schools, they offer bounce- basketball and even bounce-dodgeball. “They’re designed for all abilities,” continues Stalker. “And are the ideal exercises for letting off steam.” Try it: Oxygen Freejumping have centres across the UK (from £12.50; oxygenfreejumping.co.uk).
Ever wondered what you’d do if a zombie apocalypse led to the end of civilisation as we know it? Of course you have. Bushcraft is the art of surviving in the wild using nothing but your wits. Based on the principle that we have four basic needs to live (food, water, shelter and fire), courses cover everything from the best kinds of shelter to even stalking and trapping game (gulp). Lasting anywhere between 24 hours and a week, expert guides will test your mettle in a world with no supermarkets. Try it: Bear Grylls Survival Academy has 24-hour, four- and five-day courses (from £349; beargryllssurvivalacademy.com); Woodland Ways has several courses, from half a day (£50) up to two years (£3,195; woodland-ways.co.uk).
Walking book clubs
Gone are the book clubs where you sit in a circle, pretending to analyse books you haven’t read while getting drunk on prosecco. At the Walking Book Club, ‘lost classics’ are discussed during a bracing hike across Hampstead Heath. As founder of the Walking Book Club, Emily Rhodes, said, “Treading side by side, sharing a view, lungs full of fresh air, blood pounding, a mind that’s never felt clearer — everything about a walk conspires towards great conversation.” Try it: Emily’s Walking Book Club meets at Daunt Books in Hampstead one Sunday each month (free; emilybooks.wordpress.com).
If the Kondo method leaves you cold, avoid ever having to part with even an odd sock by learning to upcycle. Last year 200,000 items were tagged as ‘upcycled’ on Etsy (up from just 8,000 in 2010). You’ll find hundreds of classes around the UK, from reupholstering armchairs to ‘rag rugging’ – turning old T-shirts into colourful rugs and cushions. Try it: Glasgow Furniture Collective (from £165; glasgowfurniturecollective.co.uk) run regular workshops, or get inspiration from upcyclist.co.uk. Hackney City Farm run rag rugging courses (£60; hackneycityfarm.co.uk).
Anyone who’s ever tried it will know that veg growing seems simple until you watch your beetroot plant wilt for inexplicable reasons. But with courses available on everything from growing your own winter veg and herbal tea to sustainable beekeeping for beginners, it might be time to green-up those fingers. Try it: In London, ‘Capital Growth’ offers year-round courses (from £12.50; capitalgrowth.org). Verticalveg.org.uk is an online community offering tutorials, advice and videos to help urban gardeners turn their patch of gravel into a flourishing allotment.
“3D printing pens are one of the next big trends in crafting,” explains mixed-media designer Grace Du Prez. Less complex, more fun and requiring less equipment than your average clunky 3D printing machine, the 3Doodler is a pen which lets you literally draw sculptures in mid-air. “Over the past year more exciting creations have been made – like a 3Doodled car for Nissan – 3Doodled jewellery is next on the agenda for my own workshop.” Try it: Grace Du Prez runs starter workshops throughout London. Pens are provided (from £24; graceduprez.co.uk).
Craftivism works on the principle of ‘slow, gentle activism’, with groups across the country tackling issues such as gender inequality and fair wages through the (previously stuffy) medium of needlecraft. For instance, the ‘Don’t Blow It’ campaign encourages people to lobby their local MPs with hand-stitch hankies. As political campaigner for Oxfam, Tristan Humphreys has pointed out, it is a “positive and creative approach to lobbying”. Try it: Visit craftivist-collective.com for a list of upcoming campaigns and info on how you can set up your own collective.
Why pound the treadmill when there are far more exciting ways to test your physical mettle. Like dodgeball. What started as a 2004 Adam Sandler film is now an international sport (the inaugural world cup tournament was held in Manchester in April). Often played in mixed-gender teams, you get the chance to weave, jump and shoot your way to a satisfyingly sweaty victory. Try it: Go Mammoth (gomammoth.co.uk/dodgeball) and the UK Dodgeball Association (ukdba.org) offer teams and individuals the chance to compete in nationwide leagues.
If the idea of team sports smacks of PE class and bottle green knickers, try your hand at flying trapeze. We can’t promise you won’t freeze in terror at the prospect of launching yourself off a platform, but expert acrobats are on hand to guide you safely through the air. Overcome the vertigo and you’re in with the chance of developing the kind of upper-body strength that would make a world-class shot-putter envious. Totally worth it. Try it: Gorilla Circus runs classes in London throughout the year (from £133; gorillacircus.com). In Edinburgh try aerial arts company All Or Nothing (aerialdance.co.uk).
Foraged foods have been huge on the restaurant scene for a while now. And we’re reliably informed that you can find everything from wild garlic to edible nettles growing within quick commuting distance of even the most metropolitan of cities. Autumn is just the season to start – grab a shovel and tuck in. Try it: Lisa Cutcliffe of Leeds-based foraging school Edulis runs courses throughout Yorkshire and Cumbria (£30; eduliswildfood.co.uk). In London, Urban Harvest (urbanharvestuk.wordpress.com) is a free, informal network that meets on the third Saturday of every month for fruit picking and food tasting.
Streaming video now accounts for 70% of all broadband usage. So it’s little wonder that vloggers like Zoella (who has over 10million subscribers on YouTube) have become such a phenomenon. While there’s nothing to stop you picking up a camera right now, if you’re daunted by the thought (“what would I even say?”) there are a number of new courses to inspire you. Learn everything from scripting to the best editing software – you’re not guaranteed Zoella-levels of success, but it’s a step in the right direction. Try it: The Vlog Academy runs beginner’s courses in Brighton (from £185).