Here’s an interesting financial paradox: the less you obsess over wealth, the wealthier you will likely become.
For example, Michael Batnick, Director of Research at Ritholtz Wealth Management, notes this wild investment fact: “Since 1916, the Dow has made new all-time highs less than 5% of all days, but it’s up 25,568% over that time. 95% of the time, you’re underwater. The less you look, the better off you’ll be.“
Spend less time tinkering with your investments — go for a walk, build a birdhouse, knit a sweater — the higher the likelihood you’ll be rewarded. The same is true of most things in life; at times you need to direct your focus elsewhere.
The Nazi death machine extended its blood-drenched claws across the English Channel to terrorize Britain with deadly air attacks and drive the free world to the precipice of defeat. And Winston Churchill, the man upon which so much hope rested, transplanted himself in front of a blank, bleach-white canvas while wielding a thin brush and palate splotched with a rainbow array of oils. Then, he began to paint, crafting many of his more than 500 paintings during World War II.
Thankfully, for all our sake’s.
That’s because research shows a hobby, such as painting, can improve, among many things, a person’s state of mind and decision-making abilities. Two qualities that are important in winning a war, or building wealth.
The primary purpose of accumulating wealth is to gain full ownership of your time for the things you’re passionate about. That is, the ability to do what you want, when you want, for however long you want. Wealth procures time to do what you want and helps grow happiness.
But the formula seems to work the other way too, in a way that is often underappreciated. Dedicating time to your passions (i.e., hobbies) can positively influence your finances and life satisfaction. Time spent doing what you want procures happiness and helps grow wealth.
The valuable benefits of a hobby
Running is one of my passions. I run every day for at least an hour, seven to nine miles depending on my pace. If I live another 38 years, which is the life expectancy of a 40-year-old American male, I can expect to spend 13,870 of my remaining hours on Earth just running. Well, actually not just running, but also conditioning my cardiovascular system, strengthening neurons in my brain, lowering my levels of stress, generating creative ideas and solving problems, and not doing something that would otherwise harm me.
There’s been a kind of revolt against advice to “follow your passion.” Tech entrepreneur Scott Galloway, for instance, calls it “bullshit.” In today’s hustle culture, there is often an attitude of resentment toward leisure, as if time spent on hobbies is time that could be better spent earning money. You know, being productive. But that’s bullshit, too.
While it may be a bad idea to limit yourself to only jobs that align with your passions, science strongly suggests that indulging your passions is important to your health and happiness — and, subsequently, success and wealth.
Let’s look at the various physical, mental and trait-developing benefits of a hobby, and what they can mean for our finances.
Hobbies can make you more productive at work
Speaking about productivity, that all-powerful noun associated with accumulating money, turns out that hobbies are associated with increased productivity in the workplace.
A San Francisco State University study found creative activities outside work can make you more productive at work. Lead researcher Kevin Eschleman said, “Creative pursuits away from work seem to have a direct effect on factors such as creative problem solving and helping others while on the job.”
According to researchers, hobbies provide a sense of recovery and self-fulfillment as well as new skills that are transferrable to your role.
For the average person, wealth is not derived from stock picking, a family inheritance or a winning lotto ticket. It’s built from work income. Generally, the more productive you are, the higher your earning potential and greater your means for saving and investing. Putting effort into something else other than work can essentially help boost your career and financial success.
Hobbies hone your ability to solve problems and generate ideas
If you’re wondering what Jeff Bezos has that you don’t have, then you should read this article covering two psychological studies on the personality traits of wealthy individuals.
Among a variety of personality traits, the rich are psychologically very stable, particularly open to new experiences, more conscientious and more frequently nonconformists, and they exhibit a stronger internal locus of control. The article states: “Rich people become rich because they act differently from others. And they act differently because they think, make decisions and react differently than most people.”
Now, if you’re wondering, how can I start acting different, there’s a simple solution. First, grab a pen and some paper. Now, start doodling. Draw whatever comes to mind — a battleship, a stick figure family, the Mona Lisa.
Researchers in a 2017 study determined that simply coloring, doodling and free drawing 15-20 minutes improved “self-perceptions of problem solving and having good ideas.” In other words, study participants, like the rich, confidently thought of themselves as having good ideas and being able to solve problems.
Hobbies can improve your physical and mental health
Okay, let’s raise the corpse of that old, over-abused adage: health equals wealth. Because a hobby supports this dynamic.
Engaging in leisure activities, such as reading or playing music, can significantly lower a person’s blood pressure, according to a American Journal of Hypertension study. Further, hobbies provide additional long-term health benefits. A meta-analysis published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, found playing music could improve brain function and help fight off dementia.
Of course, the healthier you are, the more active you will be throughout life and, most importantly, the lower your expected healthcare costs. According to a 2015 study, the average cost of dementia care over a five-year period was $287,038, compared to heart disease ($175,136) and cancer ($173,383).
So, pick up that guitar collecting dust in the basement and start plucking that terrible rendition of “Stairway to Heaven” you learned in college. Your brain will thank you.
Hobbies can reduce stress and boost psychological well-being
Stress negatively impacts our ability to make informed and rational financial decisions. That is the conclusion of behavioral researchers in a study by Capital One.
When we’re stressed we feel less in control, are less likely to save and budget, and become more impulsive with how we spend our money. Instead of motivating us to find a solution, stress can put us on the dreaded hedonic treadmill.
From meditation to exercise, there are plenty of ways to combat stress. In fact, researchers have proven that hobbies such as these serve as effective stress busters.
In a study published in the Journal of the American Art Therapy Association, researchers found that 45 minutes of art making significantly lowered cortisol levels in participants. Cortisol is the hormone that jump starts our “fight or flight” mechanism in times of danger. When left unchecked, high levels of cortisol cause extreme stress.
A 2009 study showed that more time spent on leisure activities was correlated with lower blood pressure, lower levels of depression and stress, and overall better psychological and physical functioning. Meanwhile, a 2019 study found simply drawing for just 10 minutes boosted the moods of participants over a month.
Further, results from this study in Annals of Behavioral Medicine indicate leisure fosters “more positive and less negative mood, more interest, less stress, and lower heart rate when engaging in leisure than when not.”
Art, in particular, doubles as a form of therapy, leading to lower stress, improved memory and better overall mental health.
Essentially, a hobby can help establish a state of mind that is conducive to building wealth. When preoccupied with activities you are passionate about, you are not comparing yourself to others or spending money to assuage your ego.
As Morgan Housel writes in The Psychology of Money: “Less ego, more wealth.”
In that sense, a hobby can keep you from doing things that make you less rich.
If money is all about buying time, I think it’s just as important to figure out the time side as much as the money side. Money itself won’t make you the person you want to be. Rather, your passions make you that person, and in doing so can help make you more intentional with your money so that you can fully be that person whenever you want.
Anyway, who cares what the science says. Some of the greatest minds ever on this planet indulged several hobbies. Here are some examples:
Albert Einstein: biking.
Warren Buffett: playing the ukulele.
John Rockefeller: gardening.
Martin Luther King, Jr.: walking.
Abraham Lincoln: reading.
Oprah Winfrey: photography.
Mahatma Gandhi: spinning yarn.
Steve Jobs: listening to music.
Andrew Carnegie: traveling.
Jack Kerouac: drinking, drinking, drinking.
Julia Child: sports, including small-game hunting.
Michael Jordan: gambling (don’t be like Mike).
Leonardo da Vinci: EVERYTHING.
How to Find a Hobby
Hobbies are not necessarily innate things. It can take some searching and experimenting to find the right one. If you are in need of a new hobby or skill, here are a handful of guides to help get you started:
How to start hiking
How to start running
How to start painting
How to start baking
How to start fly fishing
How to start gardening
How to start woodworking
How to start playing guitar
How to start programming video games
So, will one of these hobbies make you rich? Probably not in themselves, but they can help. And if you have been counting every penny and hustling for years but don’t feel happy, it’s a good sign you need to allocate some time and energy elsewhere.
It’s time to follow your passion.