HAJI MOHAMED DAWJEE: Have a hobby: Even grownups have room to grow

Do you know what the nice thing about doing something over and over again is? Joy. It brings you joy and the joy is limitless because even when the activity, whatever it is, is over for the day, or the hour or the evening, there’s more joy to be found in looking forward to the next time. This is the power of the hobby.

When we’re kids, our lives are filled with hobbies, or “hobbies” rather – because sometimes, those leisure activities, whether it is a sport or sticker collecting or cross-stitch, are kind of forced on us in some way.

When you’re an adult, you get to choose. You choose your joy. And sometimes, you visit that child that really relished doing something over and over again but forgot all about it when you had to be a grown-up and you pick up the same hobby and grow up again. For others, it may be something new altogether because really, even grown-ups have room to grow, if they want to. And they should want to because the secret to happiness is the hobby.

My greatest, most enjoyable, and undeniably most joy-fulfilling hobby has always been tennis. After not being able to play for so long because I was too busy being all-consumed by learning the things I needed to learn in order to be an adult, I finally picked up a racket a couple of years ago again and started hitting balls with my wife.

My wife’s hobby is not tennis. She can play. She can have fun. But there is no guaranteed joy, so understandably, she stopped. Still, every day since and whenever else I can, I am on the court, alone, “playing” by myself. Running drills, practicing my footwork, serves, whatever. There is joy in that place for me. But to exercise a hobby alone when it is one that should be exercised with others kind of steals from the hobbyness of it all and the happiness is replaced by a profound sense of loneliness.

So finally, I went out and I found a club. And the intrinsic joy of being able to do something really intensely for two hours twice a week regardless of how mediocre at it I may be feels like handing myself happily over to an imperfect pursuit, but one of happiness nonetheless. And then, of course, there is also the adrenalin rush that as an adult, to be part of something so seemingly childish, seems like a form of resistance over which you have total agency.

We, especially of this certain generation, have had one thing and one thing only drilled into us and that is: We have to hate to be unproductive, and so our entire lives need to be built around a culture of work rather than of play. There is simply no room to recreate happiness because it gets in the way of work. But even if you do something you love, and never work a day in your life – as the adage goes – you are still engaging your entire neurological system in just one mode.

The moments in between, the free time, and the joy you once experienced by doing something for pure pleasure in that free time, become memories of the past. Something we used to do, but don’t do now. And why not? Because going out and learning how to surf or ski or rock-climb is not actively productive in your work life? Or it’s too late for that joy, that hobby?

The easy answer for those who want to rationalise and vindicate their “off-time” or rather, as I like to refer to it “on in a different way” time, is to once again frame the hobby as a productive respite from your working world.

Yes, hobbies do actually make you more productive. A 2009 study revealed that people who spend more time on leisure activities experience not only fewer physiological or mental health problems, but develop overall better cognitive functioning.

Hobbies jumpstart creativity because while you’re actively involved in them your mind wanders and when you return to your work, you may see things from a different angle. But again, if we justify a hobby this way, we may bank it into the same place that the original problem resides – a hobby has to be work or it’s not worth it.

If work is life then your sense of being in touch with life itself will ultimately disappear.

My wife has not played tennis in ages, but she recently just went out there, into the world of leisure activities that are good for your body and your mind, and committed to something new.

She dropped the guilt of engaging with life instead of just work and started to find little interjections of time to do something for pure fun.

It’s been two weeks and the change in commitment and thinking is a marathon rather than a sprint, but already, the act of forcing herself to take valuable time and invest it in a new hobby, and a new skill she is learning, has already changed her outwardly and inwardly.

She cannot get enough of it, or just the sheer joy of thinking about it and wanting to experience it over and over again and her sense of value is changing because of the productive results it is having on her body and her mind. She is actively cultivating joy and sinking her teeth into a most meaningful benefit – experiencing what it really means to be alive.

Take a minute to actively think about your own personal sense of life, and be brave enough to admit that it is a narrow view and that you are potentially robbing yourself of a more full existence with multiple possibilities, where there is room for play and fun and skill and joy.

Try and recall those parts of your childhood where you didn’t care about what your performance said about your place in the world in comparison to others. Find your place in you. And start again.

You’re a grown-up. You can.

Haji Mohamed Dawjee is a South African columnist, disruptor of the peace and the author of Sorry, Not Sorry: Experiences of a brown woman in a white South Africa. Follow her on Twitter.