(Written by Mina Dilip for Chris Cross.)
It is World Mental Health Day, and all around us, there are events, workshops and panel discussions galore, covering topics such as, ‘factors affecting mental health’, ‘tips to maintain / enhance mental health’ and so on. As a psychologist, I am often asked these questions, and my standard response is that people who have healthy hobbies and interests outside of their work and home lives are the healthiest individuals mentally.
Among the first few items on my clinic’s intake/registration form is a wide column for ‘Hobbies and Interests’. More often than not, my adult clients leave this column blank when they fill up the form. When I explore this with them, many of them tell me that they used to have hobbies back in their school days, and sometimes even during their college years, but over time, they have stopped engaging in those pursuits. In short, they have ‘left the hobbies behind’. Further exploration reveals that most of them have come to view hobbies as a waste of time. When given a choice between pursuing a hobby and doing mundane tasks on their daily checklists, 80% of people opt for the latter.
As students, we were all part of extra-curricular or co-curricular activities at school or college. These ranged from sports and fine arts to NCC/NSS and performing arts (like dance, music, theatre, public speaking, etc.). We did not question it. We just joined activities that interested us, and engaged in them with passion and enthusiasm. It is no wonder that we were happier when we were young.
For some reason, as people complete formal education and join the mainstream work force, they stop doing those very things that bring them joy. Life becomes mechanical, and transforms into nothing but work and family responsibilities. An overly structured, predictable, routine life ensues. Gradually, the passion and enthusiasm drain away, leaving an empty shell of a human being behind. This marks the beginning of many mental health problems like depression and stress syndrome.
People rarely make the connection between the two, but having a hobby not only restores a sense of well-being and enhances mental health, but it also aids in increasing our productivity at work and improving our interpersonal relationships.
Neurologically speaking, whenever we engage in a hobby or creative pursuit, hemispheric integration occurs in the brain. This means that the right hemisphere (which is the seat of creativity and imagination) and the left hemisphere (which is responsible for logical thinking and rationalization) begin to work in synch with each other, thereby optimizing our cognitive potential. This leads to new neural pathways being created, as well as novel connections being generated among the neurons in the brain. In layman’s terms, doing something creative or sporty is like a gym workout for the brain, which keeps the brain healthy and fit. This in turn enhances the brain’s capacity to absorb, retain, reflect on and recollect information and also to develop innovative associations, resulting in better problem-solving skills, higher emotional quotient and a greater sense of overall well-being.
To sum up, having a hobby and spending time to pursue it is not a waste of time. On the contrary, it is a valuable investment in your mental health over the long term, and can have a positive impact on every aspect of your life. This Mental Health Day, let’s all make a resolution to revive our childhood hobbies. Let’s commit to making time in our busy schedules every single day to do one thing that nourishes our soul and makes us happy. And then, we can sit back and enjoy the fruits of our hobbies in the form of excellent mental health and a high happiness quotient.