Why Cultivating Hobbies Can Improve Mental Health and the Workplace Hobbies can improve mood, job satisfaction and a company's bottom line: We should nurture them in ourselves and others.
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The pandemic affected our work-life balance, leading to higher rates of stress, anxiety and burnout. And the workforce responded. They began prioritizing their mental wellness and were more likely to leave, report lower job satisfaction, feel disengaged and experience toxic workplace behaviors at companies that failed to respond to this shift. Across industries, businesses were racing to keep up.
But promoting employee mental wellness is more than a way to recruit and retain talent; it's good for a company's bottom line. And hobbies can help. Studies show hobbies can improve mood and make us happier and more relaxed. They can also make us better employees. Not only is it OK to take the time to invest in the personal pleasure of hobbies: It's more than OK. It's a sound investment in yourself.
Take responsibility for sparking small acts of joy
Mental health is a complex and multifaceted topic, and we all experience wellness to varying degrees and at varying moments in our life. No one solution will be the right way for everyone. Still, we can individually take some control over our own fulfillment and satisfaction in, at minimum, some small way by nurturing hobbies. One study found we still feel the positive effect and flourishing of creative activities, like hobbies, days after participating in them. Happiness is a powerful method to push away detractors from mental wellness and the more we can engage that power, the better.
But hobbies also improve our skills in the workplace. Giving ourselves the mental space to focus on what makes us feel good boosts creativity, opens the mind to new perspectives, and builds confidence; one study found such results after only 45 minutes of activity. Some hobbies, such as playing an instrument, reading or solving crossword puzzles, can enhance memory and executive function. No matter your interests — from painting to pastries, in groups or alone — find a meaningful and enjoyable activity to nurture into a regular hobby and stave off negative emotions while strengthening your professional skills.
Share in hobbies to spread joy to others
By participating in hobbies we enjoy, we can help to keep ourselves a little happier, but sharing them spreads that joy to others. My husband recently became a Lego fanatic. Or at least, I only found out recently. Only when I went up to his office on the second floor to prepare it for hosting company over Christmas did I see what he had built: an entire Christmas Village, complete with Santa and a working railroad, out of Legos.
I was so taken with it we decided to make it a part of our annual holiday decorating. I set it up in the middle of the dining room so he would know I wanted this hobby that brought him such joy to become a core part of our world. He benefited from hours of productive time alone, happy and satisfied, and then amplified the effects of his hobbies by sharing them with others. All the kids loved hearing about how he constructed those 2000 pieces into that masterpiece, and he loved telling them.
But while many people want to make time for hobbies, few of us do. Some businesses actively build and nurture employee hobbies with talent shows or employee artwork galleries. But company leaders can make simple efforts to support employee hobbies even just by making them something we talk about: Ask about what your team members do and invite them to share stories of those enjoyable experiences. As leaders, we can also spend time on our own hobbies and talk about them with our teams to set a good example.
It's never too late to find a hobby
This brings me to people like me, adults, leaders even, who find themselves without a hobby. These days, it seems like all I do is work. I used to love gardening and taking care of flowers in the summertime, but recent health issues with my back have made this hobby unsustainable. Still, I knew the benefits of having hobbies and was concerned about having none. What would I do when I could not fill my day with work or grandchildren?
So, I asked around, had people describe their hobbies to me, and tried to find one that would be a good fit for me. It felt a little like taking applications for a new hire, and in the end, I had found the right candidate: Pilates. Not only would this hobby help strengthen my core and prevent future injury to my back, but it could also improve my posture, balance, mobility, and bone density, which would continue to provide benefits as I age. Talk to people and take your own applications to start nurturing a new hobby today.
By attending to mental wellness, we may be able to prevent some of the tragedies of mental illness. We can all take greater action to remove the stigma about seeking mental health support. We can also use today as an opportunity to reach out to the people we love, especially those living alone or advancing in age, and engage them with their hobbies.
My father-in-law loves to golf and could spend all summer on the green, but he lives where winters are too cold, so he would end up spending half the year inside and inactive. Now, we treat him to an annual golf trip in Texas so he can get into his groove. Invest in hobbies for yourself and others and the happiness it has the potential to bring. That small moment of joy may be all it takes to turn a bad day into a better one.