When is a Hobby a Problem?

One of the most amazing things about humans is our ability to find fulfillment and enjoyment in an infinite number of things that vary so much from person to person. There are some hobbies and interests that are more common than others, but if you ask enough people what they enjoy doing for a leisure hobby you will soon find that there is no limit to the uniqueness of what people find enjoyable. Having hobbies is very beneficial to one’s mental health. A hobby provides a lot of positive things to a person including: a way to fill empty time in an enjoyable way, a challenge for our mind that doesn’t stress us as much as responsibilities, a way to connect with others who enjoy the same hobby, and a way to express ourselves. Finding hobbies and interests is often a part of both identity work in counseling as well as managing depression due to all the positive impacts it can have on a person. But, a question that has been asked many times by clients and counselors alike is, when does a person’s hobby become a problem? If a person is truly enjoying something that they have a strong interest in, when is it proper to ask them to reduce or totally eliminate their participation in that hobby? Let’s look at this from a couple of different perspectives.

The simple examples of a problematic hobby

A quick mention of some hobbies that are obviously negative in nature is necessary to show that other non-negative hobbies can have their own unique challenges, but are not as simple to navigate. These negative hobbies that many are familiar with are things like: using illicit substances, participating in illegal activity for enjoyment/thrill, or purposefully causing stress or emotional pain in others. For a lot of people, these things are not even considered hobbies. However, for a sizeable minority of people there is some degree of participation in these actions as hobbies. If a person has a hobby that is causing others emotional or physical pain, or if their hobby requires direct and major negative impacts on their own physical and mental heath, it is surely a problematic hobby. These are easy to identify and do not require much more discussion as those who participate in them are more often than not already aware of the consequences of these hobbies.

When a Hobby doesn’t make sense to you

Of all the hobbies that I have heard people engage in, there is one that so extremely common that I have always felt completely disinterested in. Some people collect, or even just educate themselves incredibly, cars from both the past and the present. There are car shows, parades featuring classic cars, and entire history books filled with knowledge of every make and model of cars since Henry Ford was walking around. There has not been one time in my life where I found any piece of information about a car interesting, nor have I ever felt impressed by what type of car a person has. So, do I consider this hobby a problem? Absolutely not. Something being extremely foreign to us or even bizarre does not indicate that it is problematic in the slightest. I may personally find the topic of cars and the collecting of cars to be time and money that would be far better spent in other ways, if it was my time and money that was involved. Since it is not my time or money being spent, a hobby being uninteresting to me is simply a judgment and not a reason to believe that someone is not spending their time well. The live and let live mentality has limits when discussing certain hobbies like mentioned in the previous section, but when it comes to most hobbies there is no reason for you to support or even are about for it to be healthy for another person.

When a Hobby turns bad

If a hobby is not on its face destructive to anyone, when does it turn from a helpful outlet of energy and time into something negative? Typically, this is a results-oriented question. If a person’s hobby is creating positive results in their life, then it is not a problem. If it is creating negative results, it has become a problem. It really is that simple of a delineation but getting more specific into negative consequences of hobbies can help illustrate more. Let’s take an innocuous hobby like collecting coins. On face value, there is no destructive quality of this hobby. Coin collectors are not causing themselves or anyone else pain by enjoying the acquiring and the study of historical coins. However, if a coin collector begins to prioritize financial and emotional resources to their hobby that reduce their ability to function well in other areas of life, it is a sign that this harmless hobby has become a problem. Suppose a long-time coin collector also has a family that they support as well as a social group they have created with strong relationships. If at some point they begin to focus so much on their coin collecting that they damage the social relationships through not making time to socialize or spend so much money on their collection that there home is filled with financial stress, they have moved their hobby into the realm of being a negative action. This isn’t to say they would start to the coin collecting, in fact they may turn more and more into the hobby as the rest of their life starts to have more negativity in it. This feedback loop of turning more to one’s hobby to avoid the negative consequences the hobby is causing in other areas of life can get destructive pretty fast.

Knowing when a hobby has become destructive to someone is not always simple, but there are a few key signs to look for in ourselves to know if we are on the path to letting a hobby consume us:

  • We prioritize the hobby over basic self-care like eating, sleeping, bathing, or exercise.
  • We financially are spending money in a hobby while not being able to also afford our essential expenditures like food, shelter, transportation etc.
  • Our hobby has become our only coping tool for stress i.e., a person doesn’t look to others for support during tough times and instead always retreats to a solitary or isolating hobby.
  • Those who care for us begin to show concern that we are not being responsible in areas of our life and they may or may not attribute this to the time we spend on our hobby.
  • Our hobby begins to feel like a job, in that the hobby becomes a demand we put on ourselves instead of something we enjoy and are doing from a place of choice to enhance our lives.
  • The hobby conflicts with a previously known or new medical issue we have, such as someone who recently broke a bone trying to continue their hobby of rock climbing without giving themselves a chance to heal.

These red flags are not always a reason to completely turn away from a hobby. They are more alerts to try to rebalance in terms of time and energy spent. A simple reduction in time spent on a hobby or a temporary small break is often enough to allow for this rebalance. Hobbies are an extremely powerful positive tool for us to improve out mental health, so let’s make sure we do not let this tool become a stressor.

If you are trying to explore what hobbies best fit you or have struggled with keeping balance between hobbies and other areas of life, please contact Life Enhancement Counseling Services today at 407-443-8862 to schedule an appointment with one of our experienced Winter Garden mental health counselors.


Tom Daniele