"What are your hobbies?" | Issue #14
Nurturing a sense of place and belonging through shared interests
Placeful is a weekly newsletter exploring sense of place, sustainability, and the actions we can take to more deeply engage with our communities and wild spaces. Each week covers a new topic. To learn more about the “why” behind Placeful, start here.
“What are your hobbies?” is a question I have always had mixed feelings about. I don’t like being asked to define myself by how I choose to spend (or not spend) my free time. It doesn’t feel like a substantive definition within the context of when it is typically asked.
However, the enjoyment and pursuit of hobbies, interests, crafts, and other ways that we spend our time outside of work do define us in part, and they also help to define the communities where we live, too. Hobbies create the opportunity to cultivate a sense of belonging that can be interwoven with our sense of place, and ultimately lead to more fulfilling lives.
Today, I will explore how the activities we pursue in our spare time—for the purposes of this issue of Placeful, our hobbies—can build robust communities. I will also discuss some of the impediments to that goal woven into commonly held ideologies in the United States.
The caveat to this topic is, well, a global pandemic; community-building hobbies are not a possibility at the moment for many of us. Now is the time to gather information, or do what can over the phone, safely outside, and/or socially-distanced to have fun, connect, and build each other up.
“Hobbies don’t exist inside a vacuum”
This was a comment made by one of my peers over a recent zoom meeting, and it is so true! Our friends and family, our communities, and even the media and popular culture influence how we choose to spend our free time. The Queen’s Gambit, a recently-released Netflix series, is a great example. It led to a huge spike in the number of people interested in playing chess, myself and my partner included.
Because we are naturally inspired by others to try a new activity, there are almost always folks in our communities who would be thrilled to pursue them with us. Not all hobbies come with a built in community 100% of the time, but there is almost always the opportunity to build one.
Here are some hobbies that require in-tandem participation, or lend themselves to involving others quite easily: salsa dancing, karate, knitting, ceramics, woodworking, book clubs, rock climbing, hiking, playing music, gardening, baking, photography, board games, trivia, golfing, cycling, and the pursuit of new craft beers, plus thousands of others—including many I have never even heard of. Writing is one of my hobbies, and I’m so happy it connects me with all of you!
Hobbies & Community-Building
One definition of community is “a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common.” Our hobbies lend themselves to the latter part of this definition. The pursuit of a hobby almost always requires us to glean knowledge from others, which is an opportunity for a genuine, person-to-person connection. People generally appreciate the opportunity to share their skills and talents with others.
One thing that I especially love about connections built out of hobbies is the chance for intergenerational friendships to develop. In our current world, starting from a young age, we are often only interacting with others in our age group. We have so much to learn from each other, though, and all we have to do is start a conversation—and hobbies provide a perfect starting point.
Regularly scheduled meeting times, gatherings, classes, or games create the condition for nurturing new relationships. For people (like myself, ironically) who are not great at initiating meet-ups, regular gatherings help us find the people and sub-communities that make us feel like we belong.
According to a study from the University of Kansas, here is how long it takes to make a friend (an important part of nurturing placefulness!):
It takes students 43 hours and adults 94 hours to turn acquaintances into casual friends.
Students need 57 hours to transition from casual friends to friends. Adults need, on average, 164 hours.
For students, friends became good or best friends after about 119 hours. Adults need an additional 100 hours to make that happen.
Hobbies create friendships, friendships build community.
Capitalism and the Pursuit of a Hobby
Starting from a young age, many millennials and Gen Zers have had the experience of their hobbies and interests being cultivated not for the pursuit of pleasure, but for the pursuit of acceptance into a good university, or landing a dream job. Hobbies and extracurriculars are, for many, commodities to be leveraged for personal and financial gain. Failure at a sport, hobby, or interest therefore takes on more meaning.
When we are scared of failing at things that are supposed to be fun, the whole experience becomes jaded. And when we are programmed to seek rewards for success within our areas of interest—grades, wins, financial gain, acceptance letters—we lose something, too. Our pursuit of productivity at all costs, and the ultimate goal of economic stability that these markers of “success” merit, has led to a loss of free time for the sake of free time, and the pursuit of hobbies for the sake of learning and connecting to others.
I have a lot of feelings about this, but ultimately as a culture we need to separate hobbies from class mobility. Our individual and community health depends on it. Some hobbies require time and resources that many do not have access to, which makes it all the more important that we rethink the original purpose of our hobbies in the first place.
Hobbies & Sense of Place
Hobbies contribute to our sense of place, and our sense of belonging to our place.
For one, some people make the choice to move to a community simply because of the activities that location allows—such as rock climbing or mountain biking in Moab. These hobbies help define the community I live in, and even though I don’t participate in them, it gives me a better understanding of many of my fellow community members and the reason this place is special to them.
On the other hand, some people try hobbies because they are more popular or accessible in the area where they live. Participating in a beloved local activity can help nurture our sense of belonging and further our understanding of the places we live and the people that live within them.
And overall, communities with robust sub-communities and ample opportunities to recreate and explore various intrests are just… better places to live. If you have a great group of friends, a few hobbies you enjoy doing, and a community that nurtures both, there are fewer incentives to uproot your life and thusly, a community will hold onto people longer and have more folks invested in its school system, economic development, and overall vitality.
We can all play a small part in our community’s success by taking relatively simple actions, like joining a ceramics class or attending a local theater production, thereby making them more accessible to ourselves and others to enjoy in the future.
If we don’t feel connected to our communities—whether through many of the other topics I’ve written about, or through specific hobbies—then what is the incentive to care for them? Taking steps to intentionally cultivate a community around a hobby or interest can lead to other individual or collective choices that benefit the whole of the community.
Let’s care for ourselves and each other by connecting over our shared interests. Hobbies are fun and community-building! I hope this issue inspired you to explore a new hobby, or provided a new frame of thought for the ones you currently enjoy.
Think about a hobby that you currently enjoy, or one that you want to pursue. How can you turn it into an opportunity to nurture your community and sense of belonging? Figure out a way to share your interest with others in a mutually beneficial way this week.
What hobbies have created a sense of community in your life? I’d love to hear them!
Placeful is a weekly email newsletter containing personal narratives and reporting on sense of place and sustainability. Each week I delve into a new topic, wrapping it up with an action item that will help readers foster deeper connections to the natural, cultural, built, and historic environments around them. Read more about Placeful.
To find a web version of this issue, click here. Know someone who would appreciate the topics I’m writing about? Please share! And lastly, if someone forwarded this to you, subscribe below to receive future issues straight to your inbox. Thanks for reading <3