National Hobby Month: Where do Hobbies Come From?

Every year during the month of January, people in the U.S. celebrate National Hobby Month. Enthusiasts around the country share information about their hobbies with friends, try new hobbies that interest them, and dive deeper into the hobbies and activities they love.

It seems like hobbies have been around forever.

They’re a natural way to have fun during our free time.

For some people, hobbies give them the personal time they need, away from the responsibilities of work, school, or family. Their hobbies allow them to focus, reflect, and recharge. These solo hobbies might be activities like running, walking, hiking. Or they may be something completely different, like reading, drawing, or home projects like gardening or woodworking.

For others, hobbies are social – and they choose their hobbies because of their interactive nature. These hobbies may overlap with solo hobbies. For instance, a person who loves running may join a running club, a person who loves reading may join a book club, and a person who loves hiking may join a hiking group. Some hobbies are social by default, such as participating in community theater, singing in a church or secular choir, volunteering for a favorite cause, or playing on a local softball, ultimate frisbee, or flag football team.

Some of these aren’t possible during COVID, but now there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. When we make it to through to the other side, almost all of us – even the introverts – are probably going to want to get out among people, have fun, and be social.

That’s where hobbies come in.

Which brings us to the question in the title of this article:

Where do hobbies come from, anyway?

It’s logical to assume people have always found interesting ways to spend their spare time – but the concept of the hobby as we know it has only been around since the 18th century.

Hobby: What’s in a Word?

The term hobby comes from something we all know about: a hobby horse. The term hobby horse, in turn, comes from the French word hobyn, meaning “small horse” or “a child’s horse.” In an interesting twist, etymologists (people who specialize in the origin of words) assert the French borrowed the word hobyn from the name Robin, a derivation of the English name Robert. Since Robin was originally the diminutive form of the name – think Billy for Bill or William – scholars suggest the word came into use as a cute, friendly way to describe the ponies and small horses children rode.

Around the 16th century, the term was then adapted and applied to toy horses made of a stick with a small fashioned from wood or fabric. Little kids played with hobby horses to have fun and pass the time – and over time, the phrase “ride your hobby horse” came to mean “participate in your favorite pastime.” By the 18th century, the phrase was reduced to one word, hobby. Initially viewed as childish, the idea that one would pursue an activity of little practical value to pass the time became widely accepted – and the modern concept of the hobby was born.

We like to think of hobbies in that way: it’s how we do our own thing.

Hobbies Help You Be You

Hobbies are, by definition, something no one compels you to do. They’re activities you choose yourself, pursue during your free time, and continue doing because you enjoy them. That’s why virtually anything can be a hobby. Enjoying an activity is subjective. What one person loves another might find tedious, and vice-versa. In this way, the existence of hobbies presents a simple and meaningful life lesson: we each have our own thing, and hobbies are an outward manifestation of that thing – whatever that thing is.

Hobbies are the phrase “You do you” in action. Learning a safe, healthy, and productive way to “Do you” is especially important for adolescents, because adolescence is the developmental period when children solidify and expand their personalities and identities. It’s a critical transition period from childhood to adulthood. It’s when kids make some of their first consequential decisions about who they want to be, how they want to be seen, and for many, what they want to accomplish in life as adults.

That last phrase is not an exaggeration. Although hobbies are leisure time activities, many people transform their childhood or adolescent hobbies into lifelong vocations. We can name people we know who became electrical engineers after receiving electronics playsets as preteens, others who became musicians after messing around on the guitar as teens, and still others who entered public service after volunteering to support various causes during their teen years.

It’s clear we think hobbies are important. That’s why we’ve published articles about National Hobby Month for the past three years:

Why Teenagers Should Have Hobbies

Top Hobbies for Teens (That Aren’t Sports, Computers, or Gaming)

Top Ten Benefits of Hobbies for Teens

Those articles are filled with good information about hobbies – but there’s something we haven’t addressed yet.

How to Find a Hobby

If you’re a teen who doesn’t have a hobby, or the parent of a teen who doesn’t have a hobby, how do you find one?

The short answer is simple: trial and error.

But how do you know what to try?

Here are our suggestions:

  1. If you’re a teen, take a moment to daydream. What do you wish you could do? Draw? Play a musical instrument? Work for a cause you believe in? Make yourself a list, either in your head or on paper. For each item, make a sub-list of how you can start, learn, or give that activity a shot. Go through your list and try everything. We bet you’ll find something you love to do – i.e. a new hobby – before you get to the end of your list.
  2. If you’re the parent of a teen, include them in your hobbies. If you like to play tennis, play tennis with them. The same goes for the other hobby-like things in your life. If you like reading, share your favorite books with your teen. If you like writing, tell them how you go into it and consider buying them a nice journal to get them started. Sharing activities with your teen does two things: it sets a good example and expands their horizons. Your example shows them having hobbies is fun and valuable, and expanding their horizons gives them options they may never have considered when making the list we suggest above.
  3. For teens or for parents, it’s essential to keep the following ideas front and center as you search for a hobby. Hobbies should:
    • Be fun
    • Be fulfilling
    • Make you want to do them again, right away
    • Feel freeing
    • Feel empowering
    • Make you feel more like you

That last item is the most important for teenagers. It matches and enhances their developmental phase, which is all about identity formation, differentiation, and self-discovery. And that’s where we’ll end this article: if you find an activity that lets you do, and makes you feel like the best version of yourself, then pursue it.

That’s the kind of hobby you want.

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