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Why Is Everybody And Their Mom Obsessed With Finding A New Hobby?

It was beautiful in Central Park on Saturday: blue skies and a hot dog vendor within arm’s reach. I was playing fetch with my dog when I heard a low rumbling of many feet in the distance. During an hour together, we watched not one, not three, but SIX different running groups trample through the park like a wildebeest stampede. My dog’s ears flattened to her head in concern: What are these freaks running from?

Run clubs have exploded in major cities like New York, and I can’t throw a rock without hitting someone allegedly training for a marathon. (And I’d love to throw rocks at them.) In fact, an almost record-breaking number of runners signed up for this year’s NYC Marathon.

But running isn’t the only trendy activity that has us in a chokehold. I have friends who’ve taken pottery workshops and dabbled in beginner French classes like they’re Elizabeth Gilbert trying to Eat, Pray, Love their way out of existential dread. Coworkers are signing up for intramural sports as if their mental health depends on it. And I can’t walk anywhere in the park without running into a group of white guys with binoculars around their necks with the hope that birdwatching will finally make them interesting. (It won’t.)

Everyone and their mom seems to have gotten a new hobby — and then posted on social media about it. (And yes, I literally mean moms! Pregnant people are recording giving birth as a goddamn workout on the exercise tracking app Strava.) It led me to ask if these nerds knew something I didn’t. Were these new hobbies making them happier? Or are they just filling the space in their lives where Netflix took priority in mine? So, I asked a mental health professional to diagnose this phenomenon.

“I think people often forget that hobbies are ‘supposed to’ be fun,” Jess Sprengle, a licensed professional counselor who posts her favorite therapy memes on Instagram as The Cranky Therapist, tells Betches. “Everyone has a different idea of what’s fun for them, and that’s absolutely okay.”

Sure, it’s easy to label everything as a trend. The concept of hobbies is nothing new. However, how we as a society have been approaching new hobbies in the last year is intense, for lack of a better word. Since the pandemic, and amid a loneliness epidemic, most people have been desperate for a community. And with many swearing off dating apps for good, in-person meetups are a preferred alternative. But is the desire for a shared community the only driving factor behind this new obsession with adult extracurriculars?

With the help of TikTok Shop, Pinterest Catalogs, and a renewed interest in online marketplaces like Etsy, more people can monetize their hobbies. It’s easy to see why you’d wanna make some extra cash from your skills in our current economy. And if your hobby of choice is less focused on crafting and more on athleticism, the active goal is a currency in itself. Since we’re no longer fulfilling milestones that used to prove we were successful, it makes sense that we’d find social currency elsewhere. No, I can’t buy a house, but I can tell everyone on Twitter that I’m training for a marathon.

Izzy Snow, who runs Betches‘ Gen Z dedicated Instagram account, Send Help, admits to witnessing this cultural shift in real-time — with an apparent increase in content about turning 25 and feeling pressured to start a hobby. “Gen Z doesn’t want to define themselves solely around their day job,” says Snow. “The panic is perhaps a reaction to the ‘Everyone loves to work here; we have a pool table’ corporate culture that millennials experienced in their twenties.” And who can blame them? If my office refers to me as “family,” I’m running back to the sweet embrace of freelancing. 

Still, this trend — if you’d call using activities as a coping mechanism a trend — is not solely for those in their twenties. As one Twitter user wrote, “Everyone I know is doing weird mid-30s, Midlife Life Crisis stuff. Half the people I know are running marathons this month.” Hobbies are seemingly for anyone in an existential crisis (quarter-life, midlife, or otherwise). Whether joining a knitting club to find the love of your life or picking up pickleball to stay current with the youth, you’ve probably started a new hobby recently. Maybe you’re a trailblazer who likes to try new things, or you’re a follower who can’t help but sign up for the group chat’s volleyball league because of crushing FOMO. Either way, you signed up and showed up. And if you feel like you’re better than everyone else because of it — you’re right! Research shows that participating in “leisure activities” can positively impact overall happiness and health. Good job!

Often, though, Sprengle warns that how we spend our time can seem to exist in a hierarchy whereby some hobbies are viewed as more admirable because they’re “productive” (art classes, sewing). In contrast, others are viewed as almost “non-hobbies” because they center rest (watching TV, reading). “I think it just speaks to how living in a capitalistic society has an enormous impact on every aspect of our lives and functioning — even things that do not need to be productive or monetizable,” she continues. “If TV is fun for you, if it’s something that brings you comfort or joy or entertainment, then that’s a hobby for you, and it’s just as valid as any other.”

Still, it felt like I was missing out on some unknown secret, so I went to Happy Medium, an art cafe dedicated to trying new creative mediums — from sculpting to figure drawing — with a mission statement summarized as, “You’re allowed to be bad at this.” Did it heal my inner child? Nope. But by the end of the evening, I had made a mug out of clay, and that felt pretty damn good. It was this solid thing that I made with my own hands, and it scratched an itch I didn’t even know I had.

In theory, it makes sense. Running a marathon, for example, is a huge accomplishment or milestone that doesn’t take long to accomplish. You can go from rotting in bed to finishing a marathon with roughly six months of training. There’s literally an app called Couch to 5K to emphasize that point. When it feels like nothing is in your control — the economy, politics, etc. — doing something with your hands (or, in this case, feet) can feel really satisfying. So, to answer my dog’s insightful question on that day at the park: what are these freaks running from? The world is burning, and we’re turning to new hobbies for salvation.

“We are all impacted by the world we live in, and that shows itself in various ways, including through what we choose to engage with and how,” Sprengle says. Hobbies can act as a form of escapism, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. “I think people tend to view coping mechanisms and escapism as negative, but they can be essential elements of healing and just being a person in this world.”

While, unfortunately, now my Instagram algorithm is convinced I harbor plans to become an expert in pottery, my little experiment at the art cafe did remind me that trying new things is exhilarating. Will joining a new club or signing up for a 5K solve all my problems? Probably not. But it’s easier to go to work, pay bills, and other adult shit when I know I have time to play with friends as a reward. Now, I just need to get myself and everyone else to shut up about it.

Melanie Whyte
Melanie Whyte
Melanie Whyte (she/her) leads the lifestyle and relationship content at Betches. As an amateur New Yorker and professional bisexual, she enjoys writing about the bane of sex and relationships in the city. She is also perpetually in her messy house era despite spending all of her money on Instagram ads.