I had gotten the baking bug (a couple months too late to the lockdown bread-making craze). What first started as a passing interest in making my own food had turned into hours of poring over cookbooks, bingeing YouTube tutorials, and of course, baking. It has turned into a past-time that fills up my days.
I spent the whole of last Saturday at home, fussing over a lump of dough. It was my first attempt at making focaccia bread, and most of my day was spent running to the kitchen excitedly to check how much the dough rose.
I had essentially built my schedule around that pan of focaccia—dutifully dousing the dough in olive oil three separate times, checking on it and folding it at select intervals, and then pacing about the kitchen in anticipation as it baked in the oven.
Bringing things to life
One of the most obvious benefits of such pursuits lies in the tangibility of your results. The hours spent in the kitchen that day yielded me with some hearty herbed focaccia that I could hold in my oven-gloved hands. While it wasn’t the best focaccia I’ve tasted, the satisfaction I experienced was unparalleled. The ability to transform simple ingredients such as flour, salt, and water, into something edible felt like a newly gained superpower to me.
For Year 2 Business student and fellow The Ridge member Aiken Ong, he cites a similar reason behind his varied interests which includes writing, hydroponics (or the growing of crops without soil), and the cultivation of houseplants. “I definitely hope to create more. I enjoy creating things, and find it more fulfilling to have a tangible end product.”
Intrigued by the idea of growing his own produce, Aiken first tried his hand at growing okra plants. Like his okras, his interest in cultivating vegetables soon grew into something bigger. Aiken then dove deep into the world of hydroponics and learnt about the various hydroponic methods. The prospect of going beyond the widely-used method of growing with soil deeply appealed to him, and he began experimenting with cultivating kai-lan and choy sum with his very own hydroponics setup by repurposing milk cartons.
For other hobbyists, the appeal of immersing in creative pursuits goes beyond the material results. “Creating allows me to tune out the noise of mass media and focus on the thing I am creating at the moment—be it the item I’m crocheting, the song I’m singing, or the image I’m painting,” explains Year 4 Sociology major Natalie Anthony.
As positive psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi posits, people are said to enter a ‘flow’ state, or a state of intense concentration, during a sufficiently challenging activity with clear and measurable goals. Being in a flow state is an intrinsically rewarding experience—one derives pleasure from the very act of being in the moment when engaging in the activity. In fact, people experiencing flow often report feelings of serenity and positive emotions. In the words of Csikszentmihalyi, flow is when “[t]he ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.”
In Natalie’s case, she derives great joy and satisfaction from the challenge posed by crocheting. What started as a ‘pandemic hobby’ soon became a mainstay of her leisure time. “Crocheting has taught me to be more patient with myself, and to be okay with starting over if I have to. […] Creating truly gives me the space for Me-Time as it forces me to keep myself company, and trains my brain to embrace all the emotions I’m feeling in the moment.”
Slowing down in the age of hustle culture
For Psychology and Communications graduate Tiffany Tan, writing has always been a huge part of her life. She grew up writing in her diaries and journals to vent about her day or to make sense of her thoughts. “[Writing about my day] just makes me feel better. When I give my thoughts a form in words on paper, it becomes something,” says Tiffany. “Say if it’s a problem, it now has a name, and if it’s a feeling, I now have a space to explain to myself why and what it’s like. In a way it helps me reflect on things so I am more mindful of myself.”
Although Tiffany works at honing her craft by experimenting with various writing styles, she maintains the habit of writing for herself, and revels in the freedom that it affords her. “It’s a free space where I can take liberties and not worry if I’m doing it right or wrong. And the stakes aren’t high either—if I write something good or something bad, nothing really happens.”
However, for many others, hobbies—originally a respite from work and the stress associated with it—have unfortunately become increasingly intertwined with notions of being productive and useful during one’s free time. These days, leisure activities are often treated as pursuits to become proficient at, so as to ultimately commodify them.
With the increasing popularity of ‘side hustles’, many full-time workers and students have turned to their hobbies for inspiration for their next business idea. A yoga enthusiast might spend 200 hours outside of their full-time jobs to become certified and teach yoga in their free time. A pottery hobbyist might choose to sell their creations, and in turn, be faced with the pressure of delivering their goods to their customers on time.
For those of us who are in a financially-secure position, it’s perhaps time to push back against the idea of having to maximise the full economic value of our every waking hour. And the first step is to engage in a hobby for its own sake—be open to trying new activities and being okay with being bad at it, and most importantly, enjoy the process!
“I think that the more someone creates as a form of leisure, the more they learn that not everything we do has to be profitable or have an end goal,” says Natalie. “You do it because it makes you happy, and that’s good enough. There’s no need to justify time spent on leisure.”