Colourful wool and knitting needles

How to find a hobby

By BBC Maestro

One of the best things we can do as adults is to make time for hobbies and interests.

While a hobby may sound like a trivial waste of time to the permanently busy, an interest outside work or chores plays an important part in our lives.

In this article, we look at why having a hobby is so good for us. How do you find a hobby as an adult, and what’s out there for us to try?

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Why having a hobby is good for adults

Is it considered immature to have a hobby? Shouldn’t adults be engaged in more meaningful pursuits? Writer and time-management expert Oliver Burkeman disagrees in his BBC Maestro course: “If there’s no space in a life for things that are fun, relaxing and restorative, then something’s gone wrong with how you’re using your time.” Why do we feel that our waking hours have to be spent constructively? According to Oliver, we’ve become socially conditioned to be permanently productive.

“We tend to roll our eyes at people who enjoy stamp collecting or engaging in certain kinds of artistic pursuits that don’t seem like they’re really ‘going anywhere’. This is a symptom of the culture we live in, but I think this attitude towards hobbies is completely wrong”.

According to Oliver Burkeman, a hobby should be an “atelic activity,” a term that refers to something done for its own sake rather than towards a particular goal. For example, going for a hike is an atelic activity because hikers walk to enjoy the fresh air, exercise, and surroundings, not to reach a destination efficiently.

Oliver Burkeman cites rockstar Rod Stewart as having the perfect atelic hobby. The world-famous musician is a model railway enthusiast, a hobby that’s so at odds with his celebrity image that it’s clearly just for enjoyment. It doesn’t advance his career or make any money: it simply brings him joy.

Oliver also talks about his own hobby, playing “cheesy rock songs” on the piano. He claims he’s no good at it, so he will never be asked to perform, which he finds really liberating. Unlike his day job (writing), there’s no pressure to be any good.

Your adult hobby doesn’t need to be a talent or a side hustle, and like Oliver with his piano playing, you don’t have to become skilled at it. It doesn’t need to be goal-oriented in any way (leave that fitness tracker at home when you go off for a hike), but rather, your hobby can exist solely for your own pleasure, and being happy is just so good for us. As Oliver Burkeman says, a hobby should be “something that you are doing for itself alone, not to try and get it anywhere”.

Hobby ideas for adults

With this in mind, which hobbies are right for you? What are you able to keep separate from the rest of your busy life and enjoy purely for itself? Having to discover a new interest can feel like a pressure in itself: to help relieve that, here are some tips for how to find a hobby:

● Be inspired by your childhood. What were your childhood hobbies? Adults can still go swimming, horseback riding or pick up a paintbrush. Join an adult ballet class or dig out your old stamp collection album.

● Rediscover a previous hobby. What did you do before a career or parenting took over? Age doesn’t have to be a barrier to your youthful passion for surfing.

● Find your flow state. What do you really lose yourself in? Reading, painting, golf… Whatever helps you switch off from the world and feel calm or content, try that once again. 

● Choose something that’s different to the day job. If you look at a screen all day, try gardening. If you actually garden for a living, take up crochet.

● Be random. Never picked up a guitar before? Now’s the time to do so. From smashed pottery mosaics to trapeze workouts, there’s a huge variety of esoteric hobbies you could try.

What hobbies can I try?

There’s a huge variety of hobbies out there, and it can be tricky to know where to start. Here’s a good place for inspiration: the Statista 2023 list of the most popular hobbies in the US. The top 10 is:

  • Cooking and baking
  • Reading
  • Pets
  • Video gaming
  • Outdoor activities
  • Travelling
  • DIY, arts and crafts
  • Socialising
  • Board games and card games
  • Gardening and plants

It’s certainly a varied list, so let’s examine each item in more detail.

1. Cooking and baking

Cooking is an excellent way to switch off—it’s simply not possible to mentally run through those spreadsheets while making a souffle. There are lots of different types of cooking you can try your hand at, from pizza making to learning how to roll sushi. Bread and pastry making are wonderfully mindful activities, and you can try new techniques that increase your culinary repertoire in general.

If you want to take up cooking as a hobby, you can sign up for a cookery class, either online or through a college or local group. Today, there’s plenty of variety in courses, too—from preparing foraged food or meringue masterclasses to cheesemaking from goat’s milk.

2. Reading

Be honest: when was the last time you read for pleasure? Simply enjoying a book seems to be one of the first casualties of busyness. These days, it seems so much easier and more efficient to scroll through our phones at bedtime or on the train, and that’s such a shame. So, it’s heartening to see that so many of us still cite reading as a favourite hobby.

Oliver Burkeman advocates for setting ourselves rules occasionally, such as having a day without WiFi. Switch off the router and immerse yourself in physical print for a change (if you use an e-reader, download the book first). You don’t have to be a reader to read: audiobooks are a great way to relax.

How do you get started? Go to a bookshop and browse the stock, soaking up that comforting bookstore smell. If you love sharing your thoughts about what you’re reading, join a book club. You could join an evening literature class, or even try writing some of your own fiction.

3. Pets

Pets are part of the family – how do they count as a hobby? Just pause and think about all the fun activities that involve animals, from taking our dogs for a run on the beach to raising chickens. If you have a horse or pony, you’ll know how absorbing it is to be involved in anything related to them as a hobby.

You can take every day pet care up a level if you want to make it into more of a hobby. Enrol your pooch in an agility class, or work towards showing your cat. Create an aquarium of exotic fish or reptiles or make a pond in the garden for outdoor fish and visiting wildlife.

Fostering pets can be a really rewarding hobby. Animal shelters often need people to take in homeless dogs or cats while they’re waiting for their forever home. Ask about fostering opportunities at your local shelter.

4. Video gaming

Gaming isn’t for everyone – which is the best reason to give it a go. If you have a physical day job or spend a lot of time running around after the kids, sitting at your PC or console in the evening makes such a change. Gameplay is increasingly immersive, with incredible graphics and audio, and it’s a great way to lose yourself in a different world for a while.

Go for the adrenaline thrill of a chase game, experience a new sport, or even attend conferences and events in the gaming space. Video games can be as action-packed or as cerebral as you like, and you can even join in with other players online for a more sociable experience. Gaming is not just for teenagers – so give it a try.

5. Outdoor activities

This massive category includes all sorts of hobbies, from bushcraft to going for a jog. Outdoor activities range from low-maintenance (walking) to much more involved (wild camping). If your work or family life means that you spend a lot of time indoors, being outside literally takes you to a new place and can help you unwind.

Wild swimming is increasingly popular along with other water-based activities like kayaking, surfing and stand-up paddleboarding. Just remember, as Olive Burkeman says, that you don’t need to get good at any of these. Don’t set any goals or targets like enrolling in a triathlon: just enjoy being in the moment of swimming through the cool, clear water.

How do you get started with a new outdoor activity? You can join a sports club or simply put on your trainers and head for the woods. If you want to try something more specialist, like coasteering or outdoor cooking, it’s best to enrol on a course.

6. Travelling

Many people list travel as one of their favourite hobbies. What counts as travel? It’s another broad category and ranges from visiting cities on the weekend to heading off along a cycle path. Oliver Burkeman talks about sometimes needing rules to be able to rest, and going away is a very effective way of setting aside your everyday life.

A holiday is an excellent example of an atelic activity – something that’s done for itself alone. Travel can spark all sorts of new interests and experiences, from cuisine to sea swimming – maybe you’ll come back not only refreshed but inspired to try more new interests.

7. DIY, arts and crafts

There are so many lovely crafty activities to try. Take up painting, pottery or crochet. Or, learn woodwork and make yourself a gate or some bookshelves. You could even try sewing your own clothes.

Arts and craft-based hobbies don’t have to be solitary. Join a plein air painting group or life drawing class, or find a local knitting circle. Don’t become too focused on the end results: you’re not painting a picture to hang on your wall or to pass a college exam – you’re simply painting because you enjoy painting.

Part of having a DIY, arts or crafts hobby can be setting up your own space. If you have the space at home, you can retire to your shed or studio and immerse yourself in the creative moment.

8. Socialising

Like reading, hanging out with friends seems to be one of the first things to do when we’re busy. While socialising in itself doesn’t feel like a real hobby, sometimes starting a new hobby with a friend can make it twice the fun. It’s also less daunting to walk into the art class or gym as a pair or in a small group.

Bring a social element into your other hobbies: host a book group, share your bread-making successes with appreciative friends or go on a hike or bike ride together. Make new friends at your wild swimming club or connect with people over an online game.

9. Board games and card games

It’s good to see this traditional pastime is still popular. Playing board games or card games is a great way to share a hobby with family and friends or look out for nights at your local pub or community centre. Join a chess club or play Scrabble online.

There’s no need to find a partner or a team to play some traditional games – just think of all the variants of card games. Pick up a pack of cards and teach yourself how to shuffle a deck or perform a few tricks. If you’re looking for an activity that puts you in the flow state, you can also try a jigsaw puzzle. It’s believed former Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates loves a jigsaw puzzle – a powerful antidote to his high-tech business life.

10. Gardening and plants

Like cooking, gardening is a home-based activity that helps you switch off. Gardening is much more than keeping the outside of your home tidy – it’s about growing and nurturing, design and creativity, mindfulness, and physical activity. You might even end up with something edible at the end of it.

You don’t need a big outdoor space to grow plants successfully. Set up a window box or balcony garden, or start collecting and growing certain species like orchids or cacti. Floristry is increasingly popular, and you can buy the flowers that you need for your bouquets and arrangements.

Conversely, you could have a large space like an allotment or even a smallholding. This large-scale gardening immerses you in the seasonality of nature, helping you to regain the mindset our ancestors had. Oliver Burkeman explains that to the medieval peasant, time was governed by what needed to happen according to daylight hours and season, and everyday life wasn’t about future goals. “You’re not going to get to the end of anything” in the seasonal cycle of growing, so embrace this lack of pressure.

And this is the most important thing about your grown-up hobby—there’s no pressure. You don’t need to pick up any certificates or awards or even become a champion of it. Enjoy the moment and spend time doing something simply for the sake of it.

If this article has got you thinking about how you view your time, take a look at Oliver Burkeman’s BBC Maestro course, Time Management. In it, he shares practical time management advice to help us all live fuller lives.

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