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I recently read a great Tumblr post (yes, I use Tumblr, where else can I get snarky Overwatch memes) about how writing was a way to reduce anxiety. This led me to a realization of how hobbies help us deal with stress – and hurt us.
Reading this reminded me that my writing is often a great way to deal with stress – I find it relaxing. Admittedly publishing is often stressful, but writing is quite enjoyable. Even when I’m not in a writing mood, I find once I get into the rhythm, I feel much more relaxed afterwards.
Even when not writing, there’s something relaxing about plotting my next story or blog post or book. I began to ask why was this.
I came up with a few conclusions.
- I like writing. Nuff said.
- If I’m having a bad day, writing occupies my mind, uses my abilities, and thus they’re not being used to think about how lousy the day is.
- I have a sense of achievement from my work, and thus if I feel bad, I feel better about myself.
- Writing connects me with people, giving me something to discuss, edit, work with them, share.
- My writing contributes to the rest of my life, building a skill, ensuring I’m published, creating options.
I’m sure you can relate. Writing makes me feel good due to a number of reasons, and I’m sure you have similar experiences with a positive hobby or interest.
Being a person who will analyze the heck out of anything, I then asked “why do some people’s hobbies lead to pathology?” If my writing interest yielded so much benefits, why do other interests lead to fanwars, harassment, and enjoyment becoming anger?
This is a complex subject and I’m not going to discuss all the elements, but focus on a few of my more intense insights.
WHEN INTERESTS GO BAD: Disconnection
First, the fact my writing connects me with others is a positive. To have others in my life relieves stress (to put it negatively) and enriches my life (to put it positively).
For some people, I think they may have items #1, #2, and #3, but their interests don’t connect them with others. This may be fine if that’s what they want. However if this isn’t voluntary, or they’re not aware of it, putting in time on an interest that doesn’t connect you to people may limit their social sphere. With limited social spheres, one is more vulnerable to stress.
So though your interest may have benefits, it may have social negatives. For some people, pouring themselves into an interest that leaves them disconnected may make their overall life worse.
(However we often need space, so remember that may be a positive)
WHEN INTERESTS GO BAD: Bad Communities
Just because your interests bring you social connections, sadly, doesn’t mean their healthy. How many of us have seen, dealt with, or been in pathological communities based around hobbies and interests? I’m sure we all have.
Even if your interest provides a number of benefits, even if it connects you to people, those connections may not be healthy or involve too much pathology.* In some cases you may be better of without the community.
It’s not just “does my interest connect me to people” it’s “does it connect me with healthy people and communities?”
We’ve all seen what happens when it doesn’t.
WHEN INTERESTS GO BAD: Irrelevance
One of the major things my writing brings to me is a sense of larger connection. People read my blog posts. My books mean speaking and educating and of course making money. My skills are transferable to the job.
My writing connects me to the larger world. That’s a good thing for everyone
I’m not talking just job and skills-wise – that’s my thing. A good hobby may help you build confidence or give you insights into things like history or improve tactical skill or be fun to chat about at parties. If your interest does “more” than just be relaxing and confidence-building and social, then it means you have a more unified, cohesive life.
But what happens if a hobby or interest lacks these connections? If it’s not transferable in some way? If it doesn’t enrich you as a person? If it’s of highly limited interests to others? In this case, it might be pathological as you’re putting a lot of time into something that may have limited benefits.
We should evaluate our hobbies by how they benefit us. “I use it to blow off steam” is fine if you’re aware of it. “I’m just goofing around” is fine if that’s what you want. Its just that sometimes this can go wrong when what you get from the fandom isolates or limits you.
I’m thinking specifically of the people who often annoy us in fandoms – people who spout trivia as a dominance ritual, or brag about game skills that are irrelevant outside of the game. The people who have put a lot of their time and interests and identity into something – but that thing has little to no relevance in the rest of their lives . . . and act like it’s the most critical thing in the world.
But – and you’ve seen this – these people act like it’s the most critical thing in the world.
This is why it’s important to evaluate our hobbies and interests, both to know and maximize the benefits, but also know if we’re down a rabbit hole. If we start caring about this side thing and its limited sphere and fandom, we’ll be disconnected from the world and perhaps get more disconnected. I’m sure we’ve all been there.
WHEN INTERESTS GO BAD: Deadly Synergy
I think the ultimate expression of Hobby Pathology occurs when people’s hobbies lead them to a limited social sphere (those in said hobby) and that interest occupies a lot of their time without connecting to the rest of their lives. Soon you have something fun that becomes self-limiting and self-reinforcing – and with a community that feeds on itself and acts as a pressure cooker.
Such communities also tend to reward bad behavior. Because the important social signifiers are about said interests – not life, the big picture, the larger world – they become more important than things like actual civic behavior. If you’ve ever watched a fan war you know what I mean.
Finally, these tight-situations of almost “self-culting” seem to attract bad actors as it is. When you have a group and know the signifiers to communicate, you can easily propagate bad ideas or just build your own little fiefdom for yourself. People leave, more bad actors come in, you get the idea.
My ultimate conclusion here is that we should be conscious of our interests, to maximize their benefits, but also be aware they might lead us to pathological isolation or limited social connections. When one’s interests are of limited relevance outside of that hobby, and lead to a limited (or nonexistent) social circle that’s a sign there may be problems.
On the other hand when you can say “I am gonna do this to get away from crap” with full self-awareness, great.
I clearly need to study this idea more, but I think I’m on to something.