A wealth of research shows that hobbies are much more than a fun way to pass the time. They build resilience, boost creativity, and even improve your performance at work. And lots of personal testimony shows that stressed-out entrepreneurs in particular can benefit from disconnecting and coming back to their companies with fresh eyes.
All of which makes for a pretty compelling case for having a hobby. But which hobby should you choose? That is, of course, an entirely personal decision based on your talents and preferences, but if you're looking for a few ideas, science has an unexpected suggestion: try singing.
It should be noted straight from the outset that studies show basically any artistic pursuit, no matter how bad at it you are, will help you get in the zone, disconnect from your worries, and reduce stress. So why is singing special?
Firstly, it's often social. We sing with others in a garage band, church choir, or local chorus. Raising your voice together in this way isn't just an activity like any other that helps you meet new people, it actively helps you form closer bonds with those new acquaintances, according to research.
"We did a study comparing novice singing classes with novice hobby classes in terms of how much these activities produced feelings of social bonding. Singing produces a massive hit of endorphins, and that makes you feel very bonded to the people with whom you're doing it," University of Oxford evolutionary psychologist's Robin Dunbar has explained.
... or sing alone.
But singing isn't just a form of emotional glue that helps bond us to others. Solo singing offers plenty of unique benefits too. That's the subject of a recent piece in The Conversation by singing professor Melissa Forbes laying out singing's many mental and physical health benefits.
"Singing is increasingly being used to help improve respiratory health for a wide range of health conditions, including those with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, Parkinson's, asthma and cancer. Because singing provides such a great workout for the respiratory system, it is even being used to help people suffering from long COVID," she points out.
Even if you're lucky enough to have a healthy set of lungs, you might want to consider singing to improve your mental health, Forbes argues. "Singing is a deeply embodied activity: It reminds us to get in touch with our whole selves. When you're feeling stuck in your head, try singing your favorite song to reconnect with your body," she says.
Not only does singing help calm your mental chatter and recenter your body, it also encourages what psychologists call "flow state." This is the pleasurable feeling that you've lost track of time because you're so deeply immersed in an activity.
"According to positive psychology, flow, or deep engagement in a task, is considered one of the key elements of well-being. Research has shown singing can induce the flow state in expert singers and group singing," notes Forbes. But again, joining a choir is not required. You can also get into the flow simply by noodling around with your favorite songs.
"Try your hand at some vocal improvisation by picking one phrase in a song you know well and playing around with it. You can improvise by slightly changing the melody, rhythm, even the lyrics. You may well find yourself lost in your task--if you don't realize this until afterwards, it is a sign you've been in flow," Forbes suggests.
Plenty of other activities, from cooking to rock climbing, also produce flow. But if you're in the market for an accessible hobby with proven social, physical, and mental benefits, maybe consider adding more singing to your life.