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It Seems Like Nobody Wants To Have Hobbies These Days


Imagine you’re only just meeting me for the first time. Maybe we’re at a house party, introduced to each other through mutual friends. Maybe we got to talking after working together on a class project. We’ve already breezed through the typical questions—what are you studying do you like it where are you from oh no way how long have you been staying here the weather’s been so unpredictable lately huh—but we’re aware that we’re steadily running out of things to say. 

There’s a lull. The conversation then turns, as it often does, to the subject of hobbies. You ask me about mine. I say it’s reading. It’s a safe one, I admit, and one that you attempt to show interest in by asking what kinds of books I read. I tell you and you nod understandingly. The conversation has dried up.

I do the polite thing and ask you about your hobbies in turn. What about you? What do you like to do in your free time?

There’s a silence. And then a shrug. And then a I don’t think I have one, to be honest… I just don’t have the time.

This answer doesn’t surprise me. It hardly does anymore.

Perhaps it’s simply just due to this stage of our lives: 10 days fresh off of turning 22, I am now deeply entrenched in the realm of young adulthood, teetering into real-proper-adulthood, and so are the majority of my peers. We’re adults comma barely. Adults with an asterisk. There really isn’t the time to indulge in things like hobbies, which are now seemingly regarded as a luxury, because there is always something else you could be doing instead.

There’s an underlying sense of urgency that’s been hiding under the current of our everyday lives. I hear it like an incessant buzzing in my ear every time I get home after class, this urge to rewrite my lecture notes, and then start the reading for that class next week, and prepare dinner, and do the laundry, and sort out the recycling already, and then send that email, and prepare for work, and then even when I’m done with everything – an impossibility, at any rate – I’m left thinking, okay, well then, what’s next?

If you’re running a household, it’s even worse – there’s never a shortage of things to do. Back when I was still living at home, I remember my mother constantly puttering around the house on the weekends, finishing one task and immediately getting to work on another, a seemingly effortless but really meticulously choreographed ballet of work that’s been meticulously piled, one on top of the other. If you were to put a camera in my living room back home and watch what the feed looks like on Saturday evenings, you’d see her sitting cross-legged on the living room floor, folding laundry as she watches reruns of her favourite Malaysian soap opera. Always at work. Always something to do.

You’re never left at ease. You will always feel like you’re wasting time.

It’s also why there’s a reluctance to even start new hobbies for fear of not being immediately good at them, because then, if things don’t work out, you’ll worry that you’ve wasted time doing something that didn’t amount to anything. On top of that, more often than not, the fact that people will most likely be terrible at their newfound hobby holds them back from actually starting it. Not to mention the fear of being perceived. Why are you as an adult starting to learn the guitar at 45? Do your taxes instead. Although the reality is more likely that nobody actually cares that you’re going to an adult swim class because you’re only just learning how to swim, the internalised fear is as powerful as anything and able to overwhelm every other thought, even the rational ones. 

But then, once you do eventually get good at this new skill, there’s an expectation to take advantage of it. Everybody who got into crocheting and knitting over the pandemic is a grade-A example. While handmade crochet and knit pieces have been trendy for going on four years now, it doesn’t look like they’ll go out of style any time soon, which is why so many people will often ask crocheters and knitters if they plan on doing it as a side hustle. Some of them do – there’s definitely a market for it, so I don’t blame them – but it’s a tiring assumption. These people will tell you that since you’re already spending all your free time working on pieces for yourself, you might as well find a way to make money off of it, but I disagree. I think people should be able to partake in something they enjoy and gain a new skill without being expected to turn it into another job on top of their other responsibilities. Because then it veers away from being a hobby and closer to being an obligation, which is the exact opposite of what a hobby is supposed to be.

We must then go into what is actually considered a valid, viable hobby to have. Just about every dictionary under the sun defines a hobby as an activity you do in your free time that brings you enjoyment. Is a hobby then something we must designate time for? How much time, exactly, do we have to spend doing something before it’s considered a hobby? How consistent does it have to be?

It’s easy, then, to see why it’s such a difficult question to answer. Even my previous admission has a caveat: while I do consider reading a hobby, it’s been months since I’ve actually finished a book. Back when I was in high school, I used to be able to finish a book every couple of days. I spent every waking moment with my head in one – I was known for bringing a book to every family function, tucked into an empty staircase by myself while others mingled and ate. But now, I’m lucky if I have time to sneak in a few pages on the bus – that is, assuming I’m not running late and anxiously looking out the window the entire time.

To be pedantic, there’s also a huge difference in the phrasing: what you do for fun and what you do in your free time are two completely different questions, even if the intention is the same. I could say I like going to concerts for fun, for example, but that I spend my free time picking fights with people on Twitter. I have to actively make time in my life to go to concerts, and I don’t particularly enjoy getting angry over online discourse. 

Perhaps that’s where the difficulty lies. There’s also the fact that I think there are inherent, internalised reservations we subconsciously have towards other people’s answers to what their hobbies are. 

Reading books is a safe hobby to have – most people say their hobby is reading books, myself being one of them. If someone said their hobby was going to concerts, however, you’d feel a bit taken aback. It’s a costly hobby for one, and the only thing you do at them is stand still and sing along to whoever is performing. You would essentially be saying that your hobby was standing and swaying for two and a half hours. Going to museums? Cultured, dignified. Nobody ever asks what your favourite painting is. Window shopping? Don’t make me laugh. Actual shopping? Consumerism as a hobby, the end of civilisation is upon us.

It doesn’t need to be said, but I’m obviously pro-do-whatever-you-want-with-your-time. I don’t think we have the right to police what other people’s hobbies are, especially considering the majority of us can’t even remember the last time we did something that was truly and genuinely for ourselves, that we felt good about doing. We need to bring back the art of having hobbies, of intentionally and deliberately freeing ourselves from the worry of work left unfinished by doing things that bring us joy, regardless of how ridiculous we think they might seem. In fact, I happen to think we need to take it a step further – I think we need to be less embarrassed with how we choose to spend our free time. Shed the guilt from our guilty pleasures, if you will. I’ll even start, to field the awkwardness:

Hi. My name is Sofea. I’m a second-year Sociology student and I really like it so far. I spend an unhealthy amount of time on the Internet; I’ll be the first to admit that I have a chronic addiction to TikTok and Twitter – I’m working on cutting back, but I do enjoy being so up-to-date. I go to the cinema a lot; I try to catch whatever’s playing, especially the ones that might make it to award season. I like going to concerts because I spend most of my time alone and I like the community of it too much to be bothered about how deeply into debt they make me. I write whenever I have time to; I’ve been working on a book for almost two years now and I’ve rewritten the opening six times. I love reading; I’ll read just about anything that’s good, regardless of genre. I don’t do it as often as I’d like to, but I’ll make the time for it.