Why Parents Need "Real" Hobbies

Why Parents Need “Real” Hobbies

There’s no doubt it’s hard enough juggling work, family, and children without throwing another activity into the mix. While taking up biking, painting, snowboarding, or yoga may sound wonderful in theory, jumpstarting the process on any of those endeavors might be slow moving. However, what if just setting aside a few hours a week for a hobby you really enjoyed would significantly decrease stress levels, increase happiness, and improve your general outlook on life? Might this provide the incentive?

Leisure time is something often envied by all parents. According to the American Time Use 2013 Survey from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Americans spend only 18 minutes relaxing per day. Considering many of the health issues in this country, that’s probably not surprising to hear how little time we take to slow down rather than constantly being on the move.

There have been numerous studies focusing on the health benefits of leisure time, of which “hobbies” are traditionally categorized, but more on the specificity of labeling later. Coleman and Iso-Ahola (1995) described several examples of studies that showed the relationships between leisure, psychological well-being, and health. Both their work and the research of Iwasaki (2003) have proved that leisure activities are a great way to either resist the onset of stress or better cope with stress.

The very attitudes towards leisure time and leisure activities have also been researched. Results suggest individuals with more positive attitudes towards leisure activities experienced less general psychological distress, anxiety, depression, and hostility.

Engagement in leisure activities has correlated highly with better self-rated health, lower distress, lower depression, lower anxiety, lower hostility, and better positive affect (Cassidy, 1996).

Clearly these few examples of the positive results unequivocally support leisure activities are good for us. Across the board data reflects when individuals engage in leisure activities, they report a better mood, greater interest, less stress, and lower heart rates. Therefore, why aren’t we doing it and what really constitutes a “leisure activity” that will enhance our well-being and improve health?

Many suggest that in order for leisure activities or a “hobby” to bear a significant positive impact on a person’s life, it must involve intrinsic motivation. Simply put, intrinsic motivation is engaging in an activity simply because you enjoy it—no external reasons for doing so exist such as peer pressure, competition, or rewards. It’s for nothing more or less than the sheer pleasure.

Many activities actually do fulfill the needs of intrinsic motivation, but not all increase our happiness or well-being. Watching television can be very relaxing, and many people take joy in the experience of doing nothing but being entertained, especially after a long day at work. Dining out at a fancy restaurant is similarly a much embraced leisure activity and many of us take pleasure in that as well. Shopping can also fun, and some people even like to refer to it as a sport. While these activities bring us enjoyment and are all considered “leisure activities”, they only bring us temporary pleasure, and unfortunately, don’t increase our overall health or well-being.

While leisure activities such as watching television, dining out, or shopping are all enjoyable, they are temporary pleasures that don’t increase our overall health or well-being.

There are two categories of leisure activities—low effort and high effort. Research has shown when engagement in low effort activities (watching television) vs. high effort activities (such as yoga), both intrinsically motivating, were compared the results were quite different. In terms of outcomes, the one that required more effort produced greater interest, increased personal expressiveness, and greater importance, than those requiring less activity (Waterman, 2005). It has also been suggested intrinsic motivation is only truly reflected in challenging activities requiring a higher level of skill, otherwise, it would lead to an experience of boredom for the participant (Csikszentmihalyi, 1988).

While time is undoubtedly the biggest deterrent to a parent picking up a new hobby, perhaps a closer examination of how a day is broken down and work and home tasks are prioritized is needed. To reiterate, according to the American Time Use Survey Americans only spend 18 minutes per day relaxing, however, results of the same survey reflect on average Americans engage in watching television 2.8 hours a day. Could some of this time be better spent? If one really wants to decrease stress, be less tense, improve life satisfaction and enjoyment, embracing a hobby one enjoys might be a much better alternative in terms of maximizing the time that is available.

On a study in Chicago with a participant sample of working people from different backgrounds, it showed as intrinsic motivation increased in their daily life, they were happier and less tense (Graef, Csikszentmihalyi, & Gianinno, 1983). While engaging in low effort activities are sometimes needed, engaging in something one finds interesting and actively engaging provides so many more benefits.

Once again, while lack of time may be a deterrent, especially for the single parent, start logging your daily hours to see where you are actually putting your energy, as you might be surprised.

For those ready to embrace a new hobby or interest area, wait no more! The list below offers a quick guide for determining the right activity you can build into your current lifestyle.

Pick a hobby you can afford.

Nothing is worse than becoming involved with an interest you just can’t afford. Don’t invest a ton of money you don’t have. Select something that’s within your budget that you can keep up. As much as you’d love to scuba dive, if the cost of lessons will deplete your Christmas budget, it’s best you pick something a bit more financially conservative. There are tons of options available—some with no financial investment at all. There are also tons of ways to engage with others already involved in that activity that can teach you. Check out local Meetup.com groups in your area, as you’ll no doubt be pleasantly surprised.

Ensure it fits in with your family lifestyle.

If your new hobby requires you to drive five hours to meet with a hiking group every other weekend, you probably won’t be doing it long. Think logically and practically about the logistics and how they’ll fit in with your family commitments. Every new social activity takes energy, just be realistic about what’s required. Many facilities or groups know the participants have children, so always be sure to ask about childcare options.

The hobby must bring you joy, not stress.

If your new hobby is long distance running and all you do is dread the end of the day when you have to run, you should strongly consider other options. Select an interest that adds to your joy, doesn’t take away from it. Also, if the guilt of missing your hobby a day or two provokes stress, you’re defeating the purpose. You want a hobby you truly look forward to and feel better and more content with your life after engaging in that activity. If when you think about it you start to feel anxious, it’s a sure sign to choose something else!

Block off time on the calendar to ensure it’s a priority.

Incorporate it in your daily/weekly/monthly calendar just like you would any other appointment. Prioritize it as something you need to keep yourself healthy and happy. Consider it a part of your wellness routine. Ensure the children are aware this is important to you and talk with them about why you enjoy it and how it makes you feel.

Building hobbies in our life should be an essential part of our personal wellness plan. Remember, the healthier and happier individual is a much more relaxed, content, and patient parent!


Cassidy, T. (1996). All work and no play: a focus on leisure time as a means for promoting health. Counseling Psychology Quarterly, 9(1), 77-90.

Coleman, D., & Iso-Ahola, S. (1995). Leisure and health: The role of social support and self-determination. Journal of Leisure Research, 25(2), 111-128.

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1988). The flow experience and its significance for human psychology. In M. Csikszentmihaly & I. S. Csikszentmihalyi (Eds.). Opitmal experience: Psychological studies of flow in consciousness (pp. 15–35). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Graef, R., Csikszentmihalyi, M. & Gianinno, S.M. (1983). Measuring intrinsic motivation in people’s everyday lives, Leisure Studies, 2, 155-168.

Iwasaki, Y. (2003). Roles of leisure in coping with stress among university students: A repeated-assessment field study. Anxiety, Stress & Coping: An International Journal, 16(1), 31-57. doi:10.1080/1061580021000057022

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2014). American Time Use Survey. Retrieved from http:// http://www.bls.gov/TUS/CHARTS/LEISURE.HTM

Waterman, A. S. (2005). When effort is enjoyed: Two studies of intrinsic motivation for personally salient activities. Motivation And Emotion, 29(3), 165-188. doi:10.1007/s11031-005-94

Engagement in leisure activities has correlated highly with better self-rated health, lower distress, lower depression, lower anxiety, lower hostility, and better positive affect.
(Cassidy, 1996)
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