by: Chris Warren
Is it possible to be happy by doing only what is needed? We show up at our jobs, do housework, go shopping, take care of kids, eat, sleep, and so on, day after day. These activities are not by default a drudgery. Many people enjoy doing them, and there is a satisfaction in a job well done. Still, pitiful is the man who is busy only when he needs to be; who has nothing to do when there’s nothing to do.
I was in grade school when I built my first crystal radio. It never worked, but I had many hours of fun experimenting. My friends thought I was some sort of science wizard, even though I didn’t really know what I was doing. When my dad revived an old shortwave receiver that had originally belonged to my grandfather, I immediately took over the set. With a simple wire antenna, I was often up until dawn pulling in signals from all around the world. I was glued to the thing, completely absorbed by the idea of worldwide communication. This was well before anyone knew what the internet was.
By time I hit my early teens I was into CB radio. It was a big fad at the time, and I was happy to go along. Our local area had numerous “regulars” with cute CB names like “Old Grey Mare” and “Lamplighter”. The discussion was civilized, and if the adults resented us kids hanging around “their” channel, they didn’t show it. We acted like gentlemen and they let us be. Within a year or two the CB craze fizzed out and some of my friends moved to ham radio. That’s where the real action was. I had to jump in. Instead of listening to faraway places, I could talk to them too. As much as my parents would have preferred not having their house peppered with antennas and cabling all over the roof, they saw how much I loved my radios and how positive it was for me. Decades later, the roof on my own house is laden with antennas. I still have a radio operator’s license and enjoy the hobby every day.
The purpose of a hobby is not only to fill idle time, but to make idle time meaningful. It’s an odd contradiction that as technology gives us more free time, we don’t seem to be having much fun with it. Some will suggest that people are just lazy…they would rather passively plop in front of a screen than do anything that requires thought. I don’t buy into this idea. I think that after a long commute to and from work, dealing with family needs, shuttling kids around, and taking care of ordinary household tasks, most people are just too damn tired.
It’s been clearly documented that participating in hobbies and activities stimulates the mind and helps the body rest. Painting pictures, attending church, working out, or belonging to a club do indeed require time and effort most of us might rather spend doing something mindless. But there is a net-plus to our psyche when we get off the couch and do something. After an evening of messing with my radios or working on an electronics project, I feel like it was time well spent. Never once after shutting down my station for the night have I ever told myself, “That was boring. I should have watched TV instead.
I can’t prove a correlation, but some of the most depressed, unhappiest people I know have no active pastimes. They trod through their daily existence and never seem to have much fun, even when given the opportunity. Many of them spend thousands of dollars on counseling and antidepressant drugs but can’t bring themselves to take piano lessons or buy a health club membership. If they could just cut loose, try one positive activity that interests them, it’s possible that the moment will come when they realize a fulfillment that cannot come from medication or paid therapy.