Hobbies that have brought you joy

by Eszter Hargittai on December 28, 2020

(Are there hobbies that don’t bring joy?)

In this sixth installment of end-of-2020 positive notes, let’s talk about hobbies that have helped us get through this crazy year. I started the following a bit before the pandemic, but it proved to be the perfect distraction (except for those beginning months of global postal confusion).

A little less than a year ago, I signed up for two postcard exchange Web sites: Postcrossing and Postcard United. “Exchange” is not entirely the right word for it since you are sending postcards to people different from the ones sending you postcards so it’s exchange in a global sense, but not concerning the specific items. (In reality, on occasion such an exchange does happen, but it’s rare.) You might think the model wouldn’t work. After all, there is no direct incentive to sending out something nice since the person you are sending to is not the one sending you a card. Do people put any care into sending thoughtful cards then given that there is no obvious incentive to doing so? It turns out many do. On the user profile, it’s possible to signal what is of interest and many of the cards I’ve received (over 200 at this point) have addressed my stated likes such as cards (and stamps!) of turtles and modern and/or local art. Similarly, I try my best to send something the person has requested and have amassed quite a postcard collection to assist me in this.

With all the distancing that 2020 has involved, it’s been genuinely lovely to connect with people from across the globe. There are a great number of participants in East Asia, I’ve sent numerous cards to and received many cards from China, as well as Malaysia and Indonesia. The hobby seems to be very big in Germany and Russia as well. Some of this is just a numbers game (countries with large populations), but it doesn’t seem to be entirely about that. Of course, the activity comes with its set of costs not least of which is the postage and so this will pose constraints on who can participate. There are accounts in places like Germany with more than 10,000 cards sent and received, in such instances we’re talking some major financial investment in the hobby. Not that many other hobbies don’t come with costs, but I do find that interesting.

The sites put limits on how many cards you can have traveling at any one time, which can be a bit frustrating if you’re ready to jump in full speed, but is also realistic from the site’s perspective to establish that a new member is serious and will continue sending out cards. This is why one would end up joining more than one site, by the way, that way you can have more cards traveling at the same time (and thus also be receiving more).

Through this hobby, I’ve learned some interesting tidbits about philately around the globe. I was not aware, for example, of so-called maxicards (examples here through an image search). These are special issue stamps with corresponding cards with the stamp on the front side of the matching postcard. They tend to look wonderful and I’ve enjoyed getting a few from various corners of the globe. (If you have one to spare, I’m interested! As far as I can tell, neither the US nor Switzerland issues them these days so I haven’t been able to buy them for trade. Please correct me if I am wrong.)

From social media I gather that lots of people picked up bread baking as a hobby this year. I skipped that as I don’t eat bread. Has anyone started new hobbies this year that have worked out well? (I realize some of the previous posts have covered some related topics and I will have a post dedicated specifically to book reading as well as art making, but feel free to post about those types of hobbies here as well.)



Collin Street 12.28.20 at 5:35 am

Taught myself the mandolin. Still not particularly good (tremulo and chords are beyond me and anything above open position dubious), but got good enough I’m comfortable saying “I can play the mandolin” without feeling I have to qualify it with “a bit” or “badly”.


Eszter Hargittai 12.28.20 at 3:28 pm

That’s awesome, CS!


oldster 12.28.20 at 9:53 pm

I don’t know whether there are hobbies that do not bring joy — perhaps what does not bring joy is no hobby — but there are certainly activities that look a lot like hobbies but bring their practitioners no joy.

Think of the joyless slot-machine operators who spend hours feeding coins into a machine. Little joy there.

I myself realized, a few years into retirement, that I was playing sudoku joylessly: grimly, relentlessly, with a quiet grinding energy that in my youth might have passed for frenzy, though overt frenzy is now far beyond my capacity. But there I was, hour after hour, keeping at it, without joy.

Should we call these activities something other than”hobbies”? “Tics”? “Obsessions”?

I don’t know. But if you ever find yourself sending off postcards and getting no joy in return, I hope that you will step back and let it go.


Eszter Hargittai 12.28.20 at 10:27 pm

I had sort of hoped someone would take me up on that question. :-) I will definitely stop when it brings me no joy. Indeed, in the spring I was too overwhelmed with shifting life to lockdown so didn’t do it for a while, but then it was a nice thing to get back to in the summer and have been enjoying it again since. As I have gotten older, I have gotten much better about moving on from things that are in the rubric of fun, but no longer bringing fun (or when the drama outweighs the fun). That’s why I stopped geocaching several years ago, for example, the local drama associated with it was not worth the benefits.


SamChevre 12.29.20 at 1:56 am

I was sort of vaguely thinking that I should learn to write more prettily, and that maybe if I was going to do so I should try a fountain pen, when I had the chance to buy a box of random stuff, including two fountain pens (and a cigar cutter, and two pair of buttonhole scissors, and some ornate ballpoint pens) for $20. Both were good-quality, WWII-era pens that needed some repairs, so I got the tools and supplies to repair them. Now I have a half-dozen fountain pens various family members owned to repair. And I’ve been working on pretty handwriting.

You can see the first one here; the other is a blue Parker 51 Vacumatic: https://www.fountainpennetwork.com/forum/topic/331108-what-waterman-pens-do-you-own-2018-2019-2020/?do=findComment&comment=4374429

I find it impressive to have a working pen that’s older than my parents.


MPAVictoria 12.29.20 at 2:15 am

What a wonderful question Eszter! I didn’t really successfully take on any new hobbies during this past year but I tried a couple:
– Learning the guitar (I enjoyed it but not enough to stick with the daily practice I seem to need to improve)
– Playing chess online (turns out I am so bad that it isn’t fun to play with any of the type of folks who regularly play online)
– Yoga (did it regularly for weeks until I skipped a day and never got back into it)
– Running (I gave this up as soon as it got cold. Bad Canadian)
However, even though I failed to really make any of these a permanent hobby I still enjoyed doing them. So that is something.

Now one hobby I have been keeping up with for years now is posting a nightly poll on Twitter under the hashtag #CowboysQuestions (long story). Been doing this more than 4 years now and it has been a wonderful experience. The Questions are always light hearted and never too serious. Been doing it long enough that I have a built up a decent community that looks for the polls and provides comments. Each poll usually gets around 800 to 1,000 votes so there is loads of engagement. The only hard part is coming up with a new question every single night. I encourage anyone in the Crooked Timber community to check them out!


Eszter Hargittai 12.29.20 at 3:21 am

SamChevre – that’s neat! Not something I would’ve thought of, thanks for sharing.

MPAVictoria – how fun! I just voted for today’s. :)


John Quiggin 12.29.20 at 7:23 am

New hobbies (haven’t got far yet)

Inspired by Chris, I’ve tried to get properly into photography. Also, I’ve just bought a cheap (and too small) stand-up paddleboard. If I can handle it, I might take that a bit further

Mainly, I’m still enjoying triathlon. What I enjoy is having an exercise program where pretty much every day is different (at least over the course of a week), and there’s no need to take days off, unlike if you just do running. The events, in which I invariably finish at the back of the field, are a reward for the training, rather than the object of the exercise.

I certainly feel as if it keeps me younger. At 64, and after 10 years, I’m still achieving new personal bests.

Still on the list: surfing and long-distance trail running


Matt 12.29.20 at 10:27 am

I’m never completely sure what counts as a hobby, but in the S. hemisphere fall (late March, April), when we had our first, but not yet very strict, lock-downs in Melbourne my wife and I got the idea of paddling our kayaks along as much of the bay here as we could (given our circumstances – we were not making great efforts.) We have whitewater, not sea, kayaks, and one car, so always had to paddle both “there” and “back” each time. We had an (insane, as it turns out) idea that we might paddle along the whole bay, in sections, and while we didn’t get anywhere close to that in this time, we did paddle along a non-trivial amount of east coast of the bay – essentially from St. Kilda to Frankston and back, over several days. I hope we’ll pick up some more sections eventually, though I suppose it would take us a really long time to cover the whole bay at this rate. Still, some nice exercise when we couldn’t go paddle whitewater, and some nice sights.


Emma 12.29.20 at 1:13 pm

Sounds pretty terrible, but I recently discovered that people play RPG/narrative-type videogames all the way through at high challenge levels, and then post the resulting footage to YouTube as a “movie.” I used to be an enthusiastic RPG gamer in my teens and early twenties, and getting back into the hobby even though I no longer own a console or a gaming PC has been an awesome way to turn my aching, grieving brain off this year.



MPAVictoria 12.29.20 at 2:45 pm

“MPAVictoria – how fun! I just voted for today’s. :)”

Oh wow Eszter thank you for checking them out!


Dogen 12.29.20 at 3:29 pm

When I lived in California I played poker with a group of friends a couple of times a month. Not a very high stakes game and I’m not very good at it while several of the other players are extremely good. But some are people I’ve known for decades and wouldn’t see otherwise.

Five years ago I moved East, to a small rural community. I haven’t yet found a local game.

The pandemic caused some of the folks in California to investigate ways to play online, with the result that I’m now back to playing with my old group of friends. Or at least some of them, some of the home group are averse to going online but we’ve picked up other players. Most are in California, but dispersed around the state. One is in Singapore and I’m in Pennsylvania, so it’s a far-flung group. And it’s fun.

We have a zoom window so we can see each other and chat, and use the PokerStars app, which has a “Home Game” feature that works well enough. We play a “tournament” and settle the cash offline based on the winners. Its biggest weakness is in the variety of games you can play in a tournament—in real life it was a dealer’s choice game.

Our stakes are $20 (US) to buy in, and during the first hour you can rebuy twice if you lose it all. So the maximum at risk is $60, and the winning payout is around $100-150 (if few players, winner takes all; in larger groups the top two or three can get paid.). Over several months I was down about $80, cheap for the entertainment value.


Doug K 12.29.20 at 8:24 pm

hobbies before the plague: triathlon, trail runs, backpacking, canoe, repairing rehabilitating and refurbishing vintage fishing tackle, trout fly tying, reading.
hobbies now: reading.
Work tends to consume more of the day for some reason, then I don’t have energy for much of anything else. Winter doesn’t help, I am hoping for spring..


Dr. Hilarius 12.29.20 at 9:13 pm

I’ve been a photographer for many years (so many that I know how to develop and print film) but almost always using available light. Two years ago I decided to learn studio lighting and strobes to supplement natural light. Proved to be far more challenging than I imagined but I’ve figured out the basics and have moved into more advanced techniques. No plans for anything commercial, that would ruin the fun.


J-D 01.01.21 at 5:49 am

I’m playing board games on boardgamearena.com.


Will 01.01.21 at 7:01 am

Eszter, thanks for this lovely set of posts. The postcard exchange looks awesome.

I’ve got a little more into birdwatching this year, so we regularly drag the children around windswept estuaries now.

I still miss the Flickr group you organized a few years ago (https://www.flickr.com/groups/p5213/), are you still doing something like that?

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