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What is a Hobby

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Related hobbies: Niksen.

One of the common search queries leading visitors to Hobbies 4 Life is a question in the form of “Is X a hobby?”, where X represents an activity.

Why do people often try to verify whether a certain activity is considered a hobby?

While we can’t be certain, we can speculate that the term ‘hobby’ may carry a formal status. If an activity is classified as a hobby, it might be deemed worthy of pursuit. Conversely, if an activity is not considered a hobby, it may be viewed as unworthy of our time – because it isn’t a thing.

These questions also imply that we are not always clear about what a hobby is.

Clarifying the definition of a hobby might, once and for all, answer questions posed as “Is X a hobby?” – and that is what we aim to do in this post.

Is Doing Nothing a Hobby?

While working on the Niksen hobby page, we considered the question “Is Niksen a hobby?”. After all, Niksen is dubbed the Dutch art of doing nothing.

Just out of curiosity, we asked an AI this question (and more specifically, we asked Perplexity AI).

Perplexity AI gave us a definitive negative answer: “No, Niksen is not a hobby.”

Its reasoning was:

Perplexity AI concluded that not only that Niksen isn’t a hobby, but it is, in fact, “the opposite of a hobby”.

We disagree.

Unlike Perplexity AI, We Never Really Shut Off

What AI took literally, we humans mean figuratively.

While for a machine it is possible to be perfectly idle – to shut off – and, literally, do nothing – for us humans it is impossible.

To the question “Does your brain ever really shut off?” Professor Marcus E. Raichle answers:

No. Emphatically not. […] nothing could be further than the truth.

What Your Brain Does When You’re Doing Nothing
What Your Brain Does When You’re Doing Nothing

We Never Really Do Nothing

While ‘Doing nothing’ is a catchy slogan for Niksen, a better definition for Niksen would be “doing nothing with a purpose other than relaxation”.

After all, if Niksen was truly about doing absolutely nothing, it wouldn’t be referred to so commonly as an art, as Perplixty AI itself describes it.

Even if we don’t do anything of purpose, we are still sensing, observing, listening, pondering, analyzing – and that’s a lot. Moreover, these are all important skills, worthy of practicing and improving.

Doing something with the end goal of relaxation is, actually, the definition of a hobby:

An activity or interest pursued for pleasure or relaxation and not as a main occupation.

HOBBY Definition & Meaning | Dictionary.com

Yes, while playing basketball we do all sorts of things – but ultimately we do it to relax.

So, it seems that rather than being “the opposite of a hobby”, as Perplexity AI concluded it to be, Niksen is the ideal of a hobby – the most straightforward example of a hobby.

Why Is This Important?

Often definitions aren’t really important, so why do we believe the definition of a hobby is?

That is because, although wrong, Perplexity AI’s reasoning might reflect ours.

It seems that, like Perplexity AI, we also need to be sold on the idea that doing nothing is a thing.

This is probably the reason Niksen is often marketed as a productivity enhancer.

If you think about it, it is counterproductive: The end goal of Niksen, as with all hobbies, is to enjoy ourselves and relax – not to worry about how productive we are at work.

The fact that we need to brand ‘doing nothing’ as Niksen to make it a thing worth our attention also says a lot.

It isn’t inescapable, though. Some found it right to paise idleness without branding it, and without recruiting it to work:

I want to say, in all seriousness, that a great deal of harm is being done in the modern world by belief in the virtuousness of work, and that the road to happiness and prosperity lies in an organized diminution of work. [… Work] is emphatically not one of the ends of human life.

In Praise of Idleness, Bertrand Russell

If we need an excuse to do nothing, it is better for it to be because it’s a hobby rather than because it is a productivity enhancer. The second motive misses the point, while the first hits right on target.

For most of us, besides the fact that our brain keeps working while we do nothing, doing nothing requires even more effort as we are conditioned to believe, and feel, that we always must do something of purpose, else – we’ll fall behind or be judged by society, or both.

If we keep in mind that while doing nothing we are actually doing a most noble thing – relaxing and enjoying ourselves – it might become easier for us to do so.

After all, why do we work so hard if not to be able to relax and enjoy ourselves?

Somewhere along the way, we turned work, which should be a means to an end, into an end in itself.

So, What Is a Hobby?

Recapping, we can conclude that:

However, for an activity to qualify as a proper hobby, it should also:

For us, it is important to stress that enjoyment and relaxation are the end goals of a hobby – its purpose – and not the means to other things, such as enhanced productivity.


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