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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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April 14, 2016

Why Hobbies Are an Important Part of Primal Living

By Mark Sisson
54 Comments

Why Hobbies Are an Important Part of Primal Living Final“So, what do you do?” We’ve heard the question (and likely asked it) a million times over when meeting people. It’s the standard line for small talk, but it’s always rubbed me the wrong way. Admittedly, the question itself isn’t the problem. I personally love hearing what people are up to, but the assumption behind the question—“What do you do to make a living?”—often won’t get you to the real stories. For me, I’d rather hear about how people feed their passions than how they pay their bills. For many if not most people, the two don’t go hand in hand. I think those passions might be in shorter supply these days, and it’s a sad turn of events for the collective creativity as well as personal well-being.

With extended work hours and commutes as well as the prevalence of technological distractions, many of us are devoting fewer hours to hobbies. We fulfill the requirements of the day, but what do we end up doing for fun beyond the passive entertainments of the television and computer? And when we do take advantage and do something we enjoy, do we take the time to cultivate our interest? Do we allow ourselves to delve into an activity many times over, to develop a skill for pure enjoyment and mastery’s sake as opposed to practical gain?

Even if we can’t recall the last time we devoted our time to anything resembling a hobby, we can likely recall our parents or grandparents at their pastimes—cooking, creating, tinkering. Maybe your mother sewed clothes for enjoyment or honed a photography talent. Perhaps your dad tended an impressive garden or built furniture. Perhaps a grandparent left behind a collection of poems, quilts, watercolors or birding sketches. If you’re like me, it’s a primary framework for the many memories you carry of them. You can picture them involved in that activity—maybe even teaching you something about it. Their tools and creations filled the house or garage. Neighbors or extended family called on them as the source for whatever their hobby produced, whether it was the best barbecued meats or expert clock repair.

The prevalence of hobbies in past generations wasn’t just a response to the old Puritanical saying, “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop.” (Okay, maybe for a few folks…) Still, the inclination toward creative pastimes has long been ingrained in us—the product of our evolution over millennia.

Our species didn’t progress by sheer accident, but by random (and then selected for) cognitive jumps and simultaneous cultural innovation. “Emergent creativity,” a product of both these influences, was a boon for humanity. This wasn’t so much about any artistic talent of a particular person, but about the historical creativity that reflected a widespread, often co-occurring surge toward increasing inventiveness on both social and technological levels.

Yey culturally driven change wasn’t all a “necessity is the mother of invention,” “goal-directed behavior” enterprise. The conditions for creativity require experimentation and discovery, which happens largely by accident. A boy discovers that a certain plant leaves color on his fingers, and he later applies it to an animal skin. Another discovers a different rock for sharpening spearheads. A girl plays with a stiff reed and finds she can make different notes with varying perforations. People found interests—and, importantly for our species’ saga, kept at them.

Before archeologists can “find” and mark new developments in human history, they need to find evidence of them happening repeatedly. When relics show themselves in patterns, and a novel form is documented, they’re pinned to the time period related to the particular dig where they were found. But in actuality, many items were likely long in use before the date of the site they were found.

New inventions weren’t made by one person and then circulated over the globe. People everywhere stumbled upon and honed the same inventions by virtue of the same creative process. The process is the key. It might be unusual to imagine, but (once the critical cognitive leaps had occurred) we literally played and tinkered our way into cultural and technological advancement.

Today we live with that legacy, given that those innovators are our ancestors. While we may not have the same motivations toward survival or considerable hours of leisure our Grok families did, a good Primal lifestyle still calls to live out that dimension of our nature through our own play and hobby work—and for good reason. Those who engage regularly in self-selected leisure activities report more happiness and life satisfaction and less negative stress and depressive symptoms. Additionally, and maybe more significantly, they demonstrated lower heart rates, with the positive effect lasting for hours afterward. The “flow” state these hobbies commonly induce offers a potent and ongoing antidote to the physical and mental ravages of stress.

Older people may have more to gain, especially physically and cognitively. A Mayo Clinic study showed older adults who participated in hobbies such as reading and crafting were 30-50% less likely to suffer from mild cognitive impairment than those who didn’t regularly engage in leisure activities. The key here may be the building and maintaining of “cognitive reserves” through the connections these kinds of activities strengthen over time. The more we engage in hobbies that challenge us, the more resilient our brains may become.

Last week The New York Times highlighted enrichment programs for seniors that seek to harness the power of the arts for cognitive and physical health. The programs, which track their own results, reveal positive impacts as varied as decreased blood pressure and depression, fewer falls and doctor visits, and enhanced mood and well-being.

Beyond these suggestions from health-related research, there are experts who likewise push for a hobby comeback. One career coach shares that hobbies have helped her clients reduce stress, manage anger, and enhance work performance because of their potential to “improve…decision-making, creativity and confidence.”

Frankly, the modern hobby horse of specialization can backfire if we’re not investing ourselves in other ways outside our job sites. The best leaders I’ve worked with have not surprisingly been the most well-rounded. I find people who have outside interests to be more engaging communicators and more relaxed, self-possessed people. The less dependent you are on your job for your identity and fulfillment, the less desperate and intense you’ll likely be in the office and the more open to diverse opportunities.

Think back to the time before people assumed you were old enough to be working, the time when they asked you what you liked to do. What was your answer then, and what would it be now? That’s the question I’d argue we need to continue asking ourselves.

Thanks for reading, everyone. Share your thoughts on hobbies as an element of the good life and what your personal pastimes are. What do your leisure endeavors do for your sense of well-being? What opportunities and experiences have they opened to you? Have a great end to the week.

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54 Comments on "Why Hobbies Are an Important Part of Primal Living"

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Derick
Derick
1 year 3 months ago

Another great article, Mark! Woodworking is my go-to. A few hours a week in my garage makes all the difference in how I feel. It’s really therapeutic.

Lisa
Lisa
1 year 3 months ago

I like to think of my hobbies as passions. For some reason, the term “hobby” never seems to capture the importance of the activities that give us life. For example, I’m sure we’ve all heard someone say, “It’s just a hobby,” as if that makes an activity less important. Maybe we just need to use the word “hobby” with more pride, since often when we partake in one, it’s something that contributes something truly important to our lives.

Susan
Susan
1 year 3 months ago

Yes, just like “Oh, you’re just a housewife.”

KidPsych
KidPsych
1 year 3 months ago
Interesting post. Years ago I was in Greece with my brother who joined me from a year of medical school in Scotland. We’d sat down next to a fellow from Scotland, and I’d asked him what he did for living. He stared at me for a long while before answering, I’m a confectionary. My brother nudged me and said it was actually unusual to ask a Scot what they did (and was a little rude). I’ve carried that around with me ever since. It might be a very American trait to want to know what someone does (and by inference,… Read more »
Shary
Shary
1 year 3 months ago

I, too, have always thought it rude to ask someone what he or she does for a living. Usually it’s just an acceptable way to open a conversation with a stranger, but it can also set the stage for some tacit one-upmanship that can leave everyone feeling uncomfortable or embarrassed.

Primal V
Primal V
1 year 3 months ago
I hate being asked what I do, some people visibly switch off when I tell them I’m a full time mum – It doesn’t matter that this is the most important thing I’ll ever do, the fact that it’s unpaid and without business influence means that I am not worth talking to. On the up side I love my hobbies, and have waaay more than I have time to actually engage in and always have. Having a little one gives me a great excuse to knit and crochet but makes me wonder what I did with all that free time… Read more »
Arlan
Arlan
1 year 3 months ago

Hobbies are great. I’m kind of a dilettante when it comes to them, but I like exploring all the potential activities that could be enriching my life. I make a point to try something new at least several times a month. I have a couple hobbies that have stuck that I never would have typically considered if it wasn’t for my willingness to explore new things. Diving into new stuff, and keeping the stuff you enjoy around, pays off!

Erica
1 year 3 months ago

Reading blogs is my hobby 🙂

Tiffany
Tiffany
1 year 3 months ago

I’m glad you used pottery as the cover photo. That’s MY favorite hobby. 🙂 It’s so soothing. When I’m using the pottery wheel, I kind of go into a trance. Everything else that may be on my mind just goes to the wayside.

Nikki
Nikki
1 year 3 months ago

I love to ask people “what do you do for fun”, and it often takes a moment to realize the question – then very often, they light up with the chance to talk about what they love. Most folks don’t enjoy talking about what they do for a “living”, because it’s not really living at the job!

Ashley
1 year 3 months ago

Wow – spot on! I’m pretty sure most people I know have no idea what they do for fun. It really makes you think.

I love when someone is passionate about something. I hate when they stop themselves from continuing because they think you’re not interested – like you just know that someone in the past has told them to stop before. I wish we stopped making people feel bad about what they love to do/talk about.

MC
MC
1 year 3 months ago

I think this post is spot on. It’s taken me many years to get completely comfortable with my approach which is that my job is simply a very efficient way to fund my other interests, and the interests and passions of my family. While the work is interesting at times, mostly it’s an end to a means, not an all-consuming passion. This attitude is hard to accept in the US, and many people consider it downright heretical.

Susanne
Susanne
1 year 3 months ago

For me it is knitting. After learning how to do all the techniques, I started to focus on improving my skill and perfecting the final product. It provides a nice way to get some instant gratification, as my academic job doesn’t provide that too often. I can hold up my sweater front or whatever it is and see exactly how much I got done.

Ashley
1 year 3 months ago

This is great, and so true. Prior to having my twins, I took up knitting for the hell of it. I watched YouTube videos and figured it out. I think hobbies bring up that natural “I-have-no-idea-what-i’m-doing-but-I’m-going-to-figure-it-out-ness” in us. There was a lot of pride that came with finishing my first, terrible looking blanket. The positive effects you mentioned are absolutely real.

I haven’t knitted anything in a while because I’m too busy with school and keeping two tiny humans alive, but I’m pretty sure I’ll pick it up again someday.

Beth
Beth
1 year 3 months ago

My ‘hobby’ is crocheting and sewing. I crochet baby afghans on my lunch hours (reading MDA between stitches) for a charity I’m on the board of directors for. At home, I sew baby clothes for the charity in between crocheting graduation afghans and wedding afghans for family, and puttering with projects for myself, like a cardigan and place mats.

JB300
JB300
1 year 3 months ago
Great article as always! Some things I really enjoy are: Soccer – I played competitive soccer since I was 6 or 7 years old. One of my true passions Disc Golfing (Fun easy and free!(except the discs) and quite rewarding when you sink your first Ace) Archery – extremely fun, rewarding and in some ways a form of meditation. I am not that good yet, (have been shooting again for 5-6 weeks and really enjoy it once or twice a week) Longboarding – just riding around outside on this special board is a good form of easy exercise and lets… Read more »
HealthyHombre
HealthyHombre
1 year 3 months ago

I would love to cut back my tech time to one hour a day … unfortunately I’m a Software Engineer. 🙂

JB300
JB300
1 year 3 months ago

That would cause some issues in that regard haha.

However, I am about to start going to school for IT, and I am slowly working my way into my IT department where I work. I do also use a computer all day long at work so I feel ya, and when I was younger I am pretty sure I wasted at least a whole summer on stupid online games.

Shary
Shary
1 year 3 months ago

There are a few lucky people whose livelihood also happens to be their passion and their hobby, but that isn’t often the case.

Clare
1 year 3 months ago

I’m an artist for a living, and last year I finally bought a good camera to photograph my work for my website. It turns out I really enjoy photography as a hobby, and I take my camera with me everywhere now. Although I keep my photography “hobby” separate from the art that pays my bills, I’ve found that it’s helped feed my art. When I’m burned out from cranking out commissions, I can go for a walk with my camera, relax, and start to see things differently.

Paleo-curious
1 year 3 months ago

I’m an artist too but I find photography very daunting. I keep thinking I need to take a course or something. Your blog photos are dazzling! Very cool installation too (I know those photos aren’t yours, but the art is!)

laura
1 year 3 months ago

Both of you, clare and Paleo-curious, are lovely artists. I’m so glad you shared your creative endeavors with us. I’m quite challenged in the art department. I’ve certainly enjoyed reading about everyone’s hobbies.

Paleo-curious
1 year 3 months ago

Thank you, Laura! It’s clear from your post that you have your own art forms!

Alex
Alex
1 year 3 months ago

Rock climbing! That’s my favorite hobby, if you want to call it that. Something about the focus, self-competitiveness, and overall workout in nature is just amazing. It reminds me of climbing around on rocks, monkey bars or jungle gyms as a kid.

Christy
Christy
1 year 3 months ago

I find cooking to be creative, relaxing and a great way to encourage my teenage daughters to eat for good health. there is nothing more satisfying than trying a new recipe and having each bit be better than the last.

Dan H
Dan H
1 year 3 months ago

First thing I like to ask people when I meet them for the first time is….. “So what do you do for fun?”. That typically makes for some very positive and informative conversation. It’s has worked great for me.

Joe
1 year 3 months ago

I consider myself incredibly lucky. My hobby is also my profession. I’m an airline pilot and I still fly recreational airplanes on my days off. Hell even when I’m out walking the dog, I still find myself looking up at the sky if I hear an airplane overhead. Lately, blogging has turned into a bit of a hobby of mine which is quite surprising, considering my vocabulary mostly consists of “bro” and “dude”.

Keep the blue side up Mark.
Joe

Becky D
1 year 3 months ago
It’s unfortunate that we are fairly conditioned to think of “what we do” as a profession. School structures and the media push us in this direction, cautioning you to “get a practical degree that will net you a job” rather than encouraging you to explore your passion in an environment flush with mentors. That so many educational institutions try to fit people into little “science”, “math”, “English”, and “art” boxes instead of encouraging them to explore their passions and then assisting them in creating circumstances that will allow them to make a living doing that is so backwards to me.… Read more »
Emily
1 year 3 months ago

I am in total agreement that feeding your creative side and finding a hobby is completely crucial to a person’s well being, no matter what that means for the individual. It is sad today that people don’t practice more traditional hobbies, like woodworking or sewing. I would have loved to learn how to sew, but even my mother’s generation starting falling out of having to learn, so I never did.

Nocona
Nocona
1 year 3 months ago

I’ve never identified myself by what I do for a living. That’s less than 10% a part of me. I always give a funny or weird answer when someone asks me what I do for a living. Usually I say, “what does it matter?” or “I sell sand to beaches”.

Jack Lea Mason
Jack Lea Mason
1 year 3 months ago

I used to tell strangers who asked what I did for a living that I was a Pet Assassin. Neighbors dog barks too much? Hate the wife’s cat? I can help you.

laura
1 year 3 months ago
When I was a young girl, I wanted to be a writer, a singer, and a dancer. I also wanted to appear on the Johnny Carson show. Well, that one isn’t going to happen! But it’s interesting to me how often times our childhood interests, if we allow, follow us into adulthood. At the age of 12, I learned to sew, and that skill and my love of design and textiles supported me and three kids through selling my creations at the local farmers market. Currently, I’m hyper-focused on writing but missing the other interests,too. My guitar sits in the… Read more »
Curtis
Curtis
1 year 3 months ago
Awesome article, Mark. I am a man of hobbies. I get so fascinated by learning something new, diving head-first and letting it consume me that I have at times wished I could devote my attention to just one thing. My main hobbies now are 1) keeping and breeding turtles: for fun, conservation, providing education to those who don’t know about the turtle’s importance in the ecosystem and 2) gardening. I love all types, but focus on sustainable gardening with organic, natural approaches. Vegetable gardening, planting succulents, and native California plants. Follow me on Instagram for turtle and plant photos and… Read more »
Primal Nini
Primal Nini
1 year 3 months ago
Great article. I too try to say “what do you do for fun” when I meet somebody as I hate asking people what they do as it seems so pretentious. I think hobbies and passions are so important…especially in this day and age where so many people ONLY do their job and nothing else. I love to cook, garden and decorate. I love to travel and almost love the planning stage as much as the actual travelling part. I love to see live music and theatre..I just love living life and enjoying this beautiful world we have. I have several… Read more »
Paleo4life
Paleo4life
1 year 3 months ago
Ever since I was a little girl, my passion was playing the piano and travelling to learn about other cultures. As I grew up, I knew that I never wanted to play the piano for a living since it would have been putting too much of myself under others’ control (playing what other people wanted to hear regardless of what I felt like playing). After I got my first “real job” in banking, I was told that I needed to give up the piano and focus on my career. Thankfully, I didn’t listen. The piano is where I think, where… Read more »
Paleo-curious
1 year 3 months ago

This may be the only Primal principle that I’ve been getting right all my life. Nothing gives me more pleasure than making things, whatever the medium. (I’ve explored a lot of them over the years.) I’m an artist by profession, but I think almost anything can be approached creatively, whether gardening, cooking, making clothes, doing projects around the house… If I can see a chore as an outlet for expression, it ceases to be a chore! Even exercise can be fun & expressive– that’s why I’m obsessed with hoop dance!

Old Hank
Old Hank
1 year 3 months ago

I love to hike and am fortunate to live in a forested area with plenty of hiking terrain right out my front door. I never tire of the quiet outdoor experience and the chance to get some quality exercise that doesn’t even feel like exercise. When I travel, the boots and day pack always go with me. I’ve hiked the hills and beaches of Maui, the high country of Montana, the canyons and deserts of the Southwest. I’m hoping to backpack in the Grand Canyon in the next year or two.

Elizabeth
1 year 3 months ago

Such a great post! Reading has always been one of my favorite pastimes. In fact, it’s really the only way I enjoy being still. (TV and games totally bore
me.). I also have a very creative side that I have expressed in different ways, whether drawing, painting, gardening, or directing children’s musicals. But I always need some type of creative outlet in my life.

Laura
Laura
1 year 3 months ago

I love this post. I derive a great deal of pleasure from my hobbies – I love making things and fixing things that break around my house, and occasionally, working in the garden. I always get a wonderful sense of satisfaction from this, and learning new techniques in the process. Also the state of ‘flow’ is so important for relaxation.

Patricia
Patricia
1 year 3 months ago

Years ago I decided to make a virtue of necessities: to learn to really enjoy things that had to be done one way or another, things like cooking and keeping the yard. With time, practice, and patience, I came to love both cooking and gardening. Both are practical, creative, and fit well with a primal life. I really enjoyed reading about everyone’s interests!

Monica
Monica
1 year 3 months ago
I love reading about everyone’s interests! A week or so ago, my daughter, who is going into 8th grade, selected sculpture/glassmaking as her elective. My inner voice said, “darn, why didn’t she pick the digital photography–why not pick the thing that you can USE and maybe even go into a photography career and MAKE SOME MONEY at it?” Then my PRIMAL inner voice shut down my SAD voice. I thought, “this is great. There will be no shortage of digital photography lessons in the future; how many times does one opt for sculpture and glass?” And I remembered when she… Read more »
Ellen
Ellen
1 year 3 months ago

I also ask people what they do for fun. My other favorite question is where did you grow up, since I live in the Washington DC area and most people are from somewhere else

starmice
starmice
1 year 3 months ago

Over the last two years I’ve dramatically increased my fun hobbies, thanks in part to the articles on Mark’s Daily Apple! My acupuncturist kept telling me to work less and have more fun and I was always like ‘yeah yeah’ I’ll get to it. It wasn’t until reading the articles on this blog that helped me see the ‘why’ and the science of it and realize how crucial it is.
I love doing burlesque as it fits several hobbies into one – costuming, dancing, singing, tassel twirling ;). I also love hula hooping, gardening, making kanzashi flowers, and cooking.

Hannah
Hannah
1 year 3 months ago

Yes. Especially agree with the paragraph about people with hobbies and interests outside of work are more engaging, interesting, and have a relaxed energy having balance brings 🙂

justine
1 year 3 months ago

I make most of my clothes just for fun. I do get paid sewing and design sometimes but feel those jobs can get stressful, like making a wedding dress, so I prefer to keep it a hobby. My husband grows most of our veggies but works in real estate.

Coco
Coco
1 year 3 months ago

I started doing handmade things I needed instead of buying them and repairing those that broke in a way of being more green but it soon turned out that it was really enjoyable. The feeling is so rewarding! I would even say that it’s empowering.

Paula
Paula
1 year 3 months ago
Thought provoking post and comments. While there are bad days at my job where I have to remind myself how grateful I am to be able to support my family, I’d also say there are parts of my job that I am passionate about. I used to have a lot of hobbies but as I became happier at my job and found parts that I was passionate about, the time I spend on hobbies decreased dramatically. I’d also say that during the unhappiest parts of my life was when I spent the most time on my hobbies. Not that hobbies… Read more »
Wildrose
Wildrose
1 year 3 months ago

Is there anyone who DOESN’T have a hobby?

My hobby is writing fanfic. I should write a book but, well, that feels like work. 🙂 I’m probably not that good anyway. But maybe I will someday! I also walk for the sheer joy of it. Oh, I go to the grocery store but if we’re being honest I don’t need anything. My mom geocaches and my dad does woodwork. My sister quilts. I… don’t know what my other sister does, actually. I should ask. I’m sure she does something.

Hobbies are so much fun. 😀

Jack Lea Mason
Jack Lea Mason
1 year 3 months ago
The term hobby to me seems to downplay an activity as trivial. I think people need to find something they are truly passionate about pursuing to really enjoy life. One thing I enjoy is fly fishing in both salt and fresh water. The concept of pulling a meal out of a body of water by deceiving a fish with a lure I created to look like its preferred food source gives me great pleasure. I used to travel with a rig all the time as the gear is light weight and a 3 piece rod fits in the overhead bins.… Read more »
Sparrow
Sparrow
1 year 3 months ago

It’s great to read all the different ways everyone enjoys their free-time. My Hubby and I enjoy bike riding mostly, and just over a year ago we started to go kayaking along the rivers. We don’t go fast, just cruise along enjoying the scenery, the wind in our hair, and the smells in the breeze. Our last kayak ride took in a small creek which ended up in a large lake, with over a hundred black swans wandering around in it… just magic!!

Lee
Lee
1 year 3 months ago
A lot of my spare time is spent on hobbies that support my frugal, sustainable and natural living philosophy (just as well i have that philosophy as money is tight!). I love researching health, nutrition, recipes and ethical products/businesses. I love op-shopping, slow cooking, canning and preserving, making my own skincare/personal care products, tending my garden which is a mix of native habitat and veggie beds, bushwalking, visiting markets, making cheese & ferments, going foraging…that sorta thing. Oh, and watching TV – a lot of TV! And sleeping is good too. But I don’t feel passionate about any of it… Read more »
voluptuousrobot
voluptuousrobot
1 year 3 months ago
Such a cool post and so fun to read about what activities everyone loves to do! One of the reasons I enjoy the Paleo/Primal lifestyle is because of the refreshing acknowledgement that living a well-rounded life is deeply entwined with living a healthy life. I used to own two retail establishments, one of which was open seven days a week, and I never had time to explore my own interests as a culture consumer. These days I am very protective of my nights and weekends and pursue a slew of really pleasurable interests and passions. I am nutsy-koo-koo Bikram yogi… Read more »
Dave
6 months 6 days ago

Great article, hobbies are so vital for a healthy mind and well being. I’ve been in graduate school for just over 5 years [thankfully finishing shortly] and my primary hobby (playing basketball) has kept me grounded, level-headed, and with a healthy perspective on my entire graduate student experience. I actually blogged about the benefits of outlets last year . [I don’t mean to plug myself, feel free to not read my post :D] Your article completely resonates with me, thanks for the read.

Dave
6 months 6 days ago

I also just realized that our blog posts were published 10 days apart from each other. Funny world haha.

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