Recommend me hobbies that as a side effect expand/change your worldview
January 17, 2021 5:34 AM   Subscribe

Drawing changed the way I see the world, making everything beautiful based on the lines/play of light and shadow/transitions of color etc. What else is like that? (more examples of what I mean inside)

Graphic design: never see an ad/banner without noticing font/color choices again
Parkour: View buildings/fences/benches etc as possible props, start noticing the connections between objects/distances between them
Writing: Sudden acquisition of inner narrator in head, describing how the events happening to you could be processed into a story

(more of a stretch, but:
Running: Discovered lots of areas I'd never have otherwise visited
Dance: My first time learning my body could be taught new abilities it didn't have before

on the other hand:

Reading is too obvious to list, expanding your worldview isn't really a "side effect" as much as an expected result. I feel like meditation has the same problem, explicitly oriented towards changing your thoughts as part of the hobby itself.

But maybe something like learning a language, where even though the language itself is a non-side-effect expansion, the exposure to a different culture's way of constructing syntax/idioms/etc make you learn more than just the language on the way.)
posted by Cozybee to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (44 answers total) 48 users marked this as a favorite
Learn to identify all the plants, animals, bugs you see in your neighborhood.

Both will help ground you and help you notice the complexity and lives that are constantly around you (and noticing you).
posted by shesdeadimalive at 5:41 AM on January 17 [21 favorites]

Volunteering with the Girl Scouts has been very positive for me in this way. The women I've met and worked with cut a wide spectrum. Older, younger, latina, black, white, poor, wealthy, able-bodied, not, city, suburb, rural, married with 4 kids by 25, 80 and child free--in short, people who are like me because of this one thing we choose to do, but not like me in 10000 other ways. There's no other experience I have that provides that wealth of diversity in one place.
posted by phunniemee at 6:07 AM on January 17 [8 favorites]

Knitting has made me a more patient, meditative person. Partly due to the slow accumulation of stitches making up a bigger whole, partly the attention to small repetative detail, partly just having something to do while waiting, and something to fiddle in my hands while listening.
posted by rikschell at 6:16 AM on January 17 [3 favorites]

Another advantage of natural history hobbies — birding, moths, wild flowers — is that they connect you in a direct way to the changing of the seasons. There’s a whole year-round cycle of different species arriving and disappearing, some butterflies that are signs of spring and others that appear in late summer, birds changing their behaviour, there’s always something to pay attention to.
posted by Bloxworth Snout at 6:18 AM on January 17 [14 favorites]

Sewing. While I'm not a particularly accomplished garment-maker, it's made me a lot more aware of the construction of the ready-to-wear clothes I buy, and the fabrics that are used. I like to look at garments in shops and think about how I would recreate them, which uses a part of my brain that is both creative and technical, which doesn't otherwise get much use.

I also think a lot more about the people who make my ready-to-wear clothes, and the idea that all clothes are handmade. Sewing is quite an expensive hobby, so when I think about the dresses I could buy for less than the fabric would cost me, I also have to then think about the people whose labour is valued at almost nothing.
posted by featherboa at 6:27 AM on January 17 [16 favorites]

Learning another language is like the poster child for hobbies that expand your world view as a side effect (in ways both large and small). There's the obvious stuff like learning about the countries that speak the language and how their cultures differ from yours. But there's the small stuff too like learning what words are used to represent certain objects, concepts, or actions, and how the roots of those words differ (or are the same) as the words you already use. Just one I noticed again yesterday (because I'm currently in Mexico): In English, we say "face to face"; in Spanish, you say "fente a frente" (front to front). It's a tiny, tiny thing but it's interesting (to me, anyhow). Just one instance of this might not seem notable, but when you encounter many of these, you begin to realize the subtle differences between the languages and how our use of language has a profound influence on how we see the world. (Probably a more notable difference would be the Spanish use of the subjunctive, which isn't used much in English, even when it should be.) So, yeah, I think you're right. Learning a new language is a great way to experience this.
posted by jdroth at 6:39 AM on January 17 [5 favorites]

Learning about architecture made me understand why buildings are put together the way they are, and to notice when one departs from those rules/patterns/traditions.

Hiking and camping got me outside, and moving slowly or not at all -- so I saw more detail and heard more sounds.
posted by wenestvedt at 6:41 AM on January 17 [7 favorites]

Learning to play an instrument taught me a lot about how learning and practice work: It was very remarkable to be able to go from "I can't play this at all" to "I can totally play this", again and again.

I expect lots of hobbies are like that. I'm guessing gamers get this a lot.

The most surprising fact for me was that it really seemed like a lot of the processing happened during sleep. You'd practice and practice and feel like you were getting nowhere, but the next day you could suddenly do the thing. The magic seemed to come from practice plus sleep.
posted by ManInSuit at 6:42 AM on January 17 [8 favorites]

Also on a number of occasions, I have taken a class in something, but a big part of the lesson ends up being about the class, not the something. Like "Wow it is really enjoyable and rewarding to be with a group of people in this particular way".
posted by ManInSuit at 6:44 AM on January 17 [2 favorites]

A very apropos ask; did you know that January is national hobby month?

I bet just about every hobby, done with intention, reflection, and application/extrapolation would include such a side effect because pretty much the definition of a hobby is to practice one or more skills and to attend to relevant attributes. Developing experience/expertise cannot help but be transferred to other aspects of one's life.

I think a very interesting corollary question is, "What quality or capability do you want to develop, and what hobbies can assist with that?"
posted by dancing leaves at 6:45 AM on January 17 [6 favorites]

I think any hobby is going to have this effect. Anytime you spend significant time on "something" you will start to see how that one thing actually connects to everything else in all sort of ways you never previously considered.
posted by COD at 6:46 AM on January 17 [4 favorites]

I suspect that almost all hobbies have this side effect. As I aways say, the world is full of details so no matter where you are coming from, you'll notice more with a little push.

For me, the most surprising was when I started to learn welding from my father. Almost immediately I started noticing welds in metal objects and wondered how they were made.

Another on and off hobby of mine is amateur astronomy. I only have a binocular, so nothing serious, but after a while, I realized that I feel at home, safe and calm whenever I have the night sky above me. Majestic, sure, but you see, I know my way around it. And that's a feeling I never had before this hobby.

I think, photography, sailing, mushroom hunting, cooking, carpentry all have this effect: a previously unknown slice of the world becomes familiar and you feel at home as a result.
posted by kmt at 6:49 AM on January 17 [5 favorites]

Hunting edible mushrooms.

You will get to know the seasons like you haven't before. You need to learn about the woods. The trees, the north side vs the south side of a hill. How elevation affects moisture. It's all very interesting. Most people would be astonished at what you can find within walking distance of your house.

You'll find local mushroom hunting Facebook pages and forums you'd never heard of and if you catch the bug bad you end up joining your local mycological association (I bet there's one local to most reading this) and go on local forays with experts who seem to know every single mushroom in the woods.

In my local woods I find enoki, lions mane, chicken of the woods, morels, oyster mushrooms, chanterelles and black trumpets. All choice edibles, as they say. Found while taking walks with our dogs. It's a great hobby.
posted by Patapsco Mike at 6:51 AM on January 17 [7 favorites]

I've really enjoy working with ceramics/pottery. It gives you an appreciation of history, wow, how did those Greeks really make those cool jugs when they didn't have electric powered pottery wheels and kilns? An appreciation of form & methodology -- you also approach most handmade ceramic objects with curiosity -- hmm, was this made from a slab? wheel thrown? slip casted? An appreciation of decoration -- wow, this carving on this mug is super intricate, the artist must have a lot of patience, sharp tools and a steady hand. An appreciation of design & function -- ugh, this tea pot I made has a dribbling spout, how do I make a dripless spout?

There is also a type of chemistry to it. Different kinds of clay behave differently, and different kinds of glazes behave differently, and different firing methods make different kinds of clay and different kinds of glazes behave differently. Coming from a more graphic design / drawing background, the "mindset" of a potter is also very different. There is a lot of acceptance of accidents and failures, praying to the kiln gods. When your pot is in a 2000+ degree F kiln, well, maybe it might crack and explode, or that glaze doesn't behave in the way you expect. It brings much more of an open-mindness and trial/error way of working with this craft.
posted by ellerhodes at 7:13 AM on January 17 [4 favorites]

When I paint, I feel like I’m painting my inner emotional world. Some paintings feel like my inner self portraits and some paintings feel like my impression of the emotions of the world around me.
posted by gt2 at 7:28 AM on January 17

Some years ago, one of my kids and I watched Understanding the World's Greatest Structures, a course from The Great Courses. Not long after we watched it, we spent some time walking around a city with lots of buildings old enough that the structure was still on the outside, and we were both struck by how we could now look at a building and see how the forces moved down it to the ground. My kid said, "Everything looks completely different now."

Not so much a hobby as learning a new way of seeing we hadn't been privy to before except in a very superficial way.
posted by Orlop at 8:01 AM on January 17 [4 favorites]

Several years ago, I started volunteering as a 'repair coach' in community events where people bring broken items for repair. It is an activity that puts you in contact with such a wide range of people and exercises your capacity for compassion and nurturing.

It is humanizing.
posted by Glomar response at 8:10 AM on January 17 [5 favorites]

What else is like that?

Pretty much everything that involves learning something new is like that.

Yes, this is the ultimate pat answer. Doesn't change the fact that it's true. Remaining open to learning new skills and then practising them whenever the opportunity arises really is that One Weird Trick.
posted by flabdablet at 8:11 AM on January 17 [2 favorites]

Chess is pretty obvious, what with the looking three moves ahead thing and all.

Someone else covered the language thing already, but I’ll second it because you really can get into some abstract thoughts about how words express ideas.

Someone else mentioned playing an instrument; I would take that a step further and saying playing *two* instruments. Even knowing the concepts of music theory, it’s pretty interesting how differently you can apply them on a guitar neck vs on a piano keyboard. If nothing else, you can quickly tell which sings were written by guitarists and which were written by pianists.
posted by kevinbelt at 8:42 AM on January 17 [1 favorite]

I would add walking in your area/neighborhood, especially without earphones. You can focus on different aspects each time i.e. different trees, doors, you gain a familiarity with your immediate area that you don't get just driving by.
posted by mrmarley at 8:46 AM on January 17 [3 favorites]

If you learn how to fly fighter kites or stunt kites (or sail, etc), you'll see and experience wind in a whole new way.
posted by SaltySalticid at 8:48 AM on January 17 [2 favorites]

Years ago I took a paper in river mechanics (fluvial dynamics) which really helped me to see and understand how rivers work and how water moves things. It's fascinating for me to be able to stand in say a dry/low-flow riverbed and see the patterns in the riverbed and the way the stones lie.

It was especially interesting in that it was taught in three ways simultaneously: narrative, graphical, math.
posted by unearthed at 8:57 AM on January 17 [1 favorite]

Weather is used, at least in the US, as an example of the ultimate boring conversation topic, but it's something that affects many aspects of our lives, every single day. It's also yet another example of how learning more about the natural world can enrich us. I started by reading The Cloudspotter's Guide, which is fascinating even if you don't go any further. Once you're aware of the many different types of clouds, how they form, and what they indicate, you will never look at the sky the same way again (and birdwatching is great, but it is way easier to watch clouds - they're huge and they don't hide). Getting into clouds eventually led me to becoming a SKYWARN spotter, and the training for that taught me other things about weather.
posted by FencingGal at 9:00 AM on January 17 [12 favorites]

so it isn't exactly the hobby itself but rather (incredibly enough) the Facebook groups about it: cake decorating. I joined an international group about cake decorating (technically they're all international but if the founder's in a country other than yours, you'll get a lot more diversity of points of view.)

I love it! All these peeks into kitchens and conditions that are so different from mine. Young men decorating 7 foot high cakes in Philippine hotels. Cakes being presented at outdoor weddings in Nigeria. Styles of buttercream I didn't know about that get almost no play in the US (Korean! Russian!) Challenges of cake work in the tropics. What kind of ingredients are and aren't sold in different places. Australian wedding cakes are different from what gets served in the US. UK Christmas cakes are their own specific thing. What ingredients cost! And what I love about it is that it has none of that stilted "we are here to learn from each other" deliberateness that can be so awkward. It's just a side effect of all the decorators in the world making and sharing the coolest cakes they can. When COVID is over I hope to get to the Cake International competition one of these years just to looky-loo.
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:02 AM on January 17 [8 favorites]

Nthing birding and adding tracking (learning animal tracks). This will depend where you live but you may start to notice them in surprising places where they may come out at night or early early in the morning but aren’t seen by the average person going about their business during the day. You also learn about the animals themselves of course, not just their paw prints but what their gait is like, what they eat, what habitats they frequent, etc. I especially love seeing prints of two animals interacting. Sometimes it seems from their tracks that they may have met face to face, or sometimes you can tell that for example one animal was walking along and then started walking in another animals tracks in the snow, maybe to make it easier or something. They didn’t necessarily meet face to face but you can see how things still interact over time and you are a part of that as well.
posted by sillysally at 9:05 AM on January 17 [4 favorites]

Bouldering has led to similar reflections as your parkour example, but it's also given me a lot of appreciation for how people with different body types, strengths, and proportions can approach a physical problem in different ways. I boulder with my partner and a friend, who are taller and routinely out climb me, but for the past few weeks I've been working on a problem that's set in a way that makes it challenging but achievable for me, but near impossible for them to even get started on.

Also learning to stand on teeny tiny footholds has made us all laugh at many movie and TV scenes featuring what are supposed to be perilously narrow ledges.
posted by deludingmyself at 9:37 AM on January 17 [1 favorite]

Your question reminded me of Dr. Richard Feynman's quest to learn everything he could about a small remote region and hopefully to visit it (sadly that never happened). Here was a Nobel prize winner who expanded our knowledge of the physical universe, and yet also focused his mind at the opposite end of the scale.

"Near the end of his life, Feynman embarked on decade-long quest to reach the lost land of Tannu Tuva — a land that fired his boyhood imagination with its exciting triangular stamps depicting scenes of nomads in a South Siberian Shangri-La." -- Source

In short I suppose that is just a recommendation for "culture and geography" studies, but I thought the back story might show that there is always more to learn.
posted by forthright at 9:42 AM on January 17 [1 favorite]

Getting into perfume seems frivolous but I found it incredibly interesting—we have a pretty large vocabulary and range of widely-respected media to stimulate our vision, hearing, and taste, but not so much our sense of smell. (Or our sense of touch, for which I recommend knitting or crochet, although those still cover a limited range.) Learning more about scents and where they come from, their history, and their uses is fascinating and will make you think differently about your “clean”-smelling laundry detergent or the nuances of the scents of different roses. Chandler Burr’s The Perfect Scent is a nice introduction, and ordering a small sample/decant pack online and reading about each scent and sniffing mindfully, as though you were doing a wine tasting, can be a very interesting experience and open your mind to the possibilities of an entire sense.

Also, this isn’t really a hobby, but the 99% Invisible podcast sounds right up your alley and might lead you down some interesting rabbit holes. They explore the hidden forces and stories behind everyday things.
posted by music for skeletons at 10:25 AM on January 17 [6 favorites]

Long distance backpacking. I found it made me view, like, existing differently? For example the concept of being "at home" no longer existed. My home was a hammock in my backpack that I set up every night, not something I traveled back to at the end of every day.
posted by ToddBurson at 12:05 PM on January 17 [4 favorites]

I bought a new-gen Polaroid camera in August and while it's not the cheapest hobby, it has taught me so much about the place I live. For the most part, the most I've traveled to take photos is about 10 miles -- everything else has been vaguely within a 5-mile distance from my house. I've discovered so much cool architecture nearby and the amazing midcentury modern houses and buildings that are all around me.

It also has taught me to let go of expectations and just be in a moment. Polaroids are all going to be one-of-a-kind -- sure, I can scan them (and I do) but even if I buy one of those Polaroid printers, they're still not going to be the same as the original. I often think I know what I'm going to get when I take a photo but the results are often different -- surprising in both good and bad ways. Also, since they take a while to develop, I won't know until later if something didn't turn out and by that point, it's usually too late to go back. I actually love that! It's taught me to see my immediate world in a new way.
posted by edencosmic at 12:59 PM on January 17 [1 favorite]

I'm always trying to figure out where I'd set up an 18-meter archery range if I could. My yard, other people's yards, aisles at the grocery store, down airplane aisles...
posted by The corpse in the library at 1:02 PM on January 17 [2 favorites]

I would add walking in your area/neighborhood, especially without earphones. You can focus on different aspects each time

listen very carefully to your footsteps, as well as surrounding environmental sounds. there is a sonic landscape everywhere.
posted by j_curiouser at 1:30 PM on January 17 [2 favorites]

I have gone small-craft sailing a few times. I find it is always an eye-opener to go from a solid world where everything is horizontal and vertical, to one where everything is leaning and moving and supported by liquid.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 1:53 PM on January 17 [2 favorites]

When I started biking, I started learning my city from an entirely different perspective. And not just the thing where you realize holy crap most US cities do not account for humans not in cars in their infrastructure and are inspired to get involved in your local bike coalition, though that's certainly a thing and did happen to me.

I discovered connections between different neighborhoods I'd never have thought about before, and found little restaurants and shops and parks I'd gone past daily before and never noticed because I was in a bus or a car, and made connections with other cyclists and The People in My Neighborhood.

It changed my grocery shopping habits, because I didn't have to plan ahead to take a bus or a cab (no Lyft at the time), or ask someone to drive me, or deal with the guilt and additional expense of delivery (this was pre-pandemic) when I had an order larger than I could carry. Instead, I could just hop on the bike with very little preparation and effort and go get what I needed when I needed it.

It changed how I dressed and bought clothes, because everything needed to be comfortable enough to ride in.

And the biggest thing: It changed my perspective about how I was "allowed" to look in public and made me a lot more comfortable in my own body. I wear normal clothes for short trips, but long weekend and event rides call for bike shorts and a jersey. I'm fat and would previously have never gone to anywhere but a sexy club in form-fitting clothing without something over it to hide my butt and belly, but while biking around I just did not give a shit. It was socially-acceptable clothing for the activity (even though I thought at the time that my body itself wasn't socially-acceptable), and it was clothing that allowed me to be comfortable while doing the activity, and so it didn't take long for me to stop worrying about anyone seeing me like that off the bike. I'd stop for coffee and food and supplies and walk right into a public place like I belonged there and deserved to be comfortable, too, because I did and I did! And that's carried over into other parts of my life, because if I am cool walking into a nice restaurant in lycra shorts and a tight neon jersey, red and sweaty and helmet-haired, to refill my water, why should I not just wear what makes me comfortable in nearly every other situation, too?
posted by rhiannonstone at 4:20 PM on January 17 [5 favorites]

I can’t believe no one has mentioned photography. Made me, literally, see the light for the first time. Similar to your experience with drawing, the world opened up to me as an infinite and infinitely shifting combination of lines, colours, light and shadow. So beautiful. I imagine cinematography might be similar.
posted by t0astie at 8:47 PM on January 17 [4 favorites]

To add to featherboa's answer about sewing...

Sewing has changed how I see myself and the people around me. Using a measuring tape, comparing numbers, adjusting lengths and widths...sizes really are just numbers to me now. They have no real relevance other than as a helper that lets me make something that will fit me better.

It's also fascinating when you really start looking at people too. For instance, a friend of mine is the same height as me, but she has a longer torso and I have longer legs. I know that any dress with a defined or dropped waist will never fit me off the rack, because of my torso length. And we're both short, so pants always have to be turned up!
posted by eloeth-starr at 10:05 PM on January 17 [4 favorites]

Read Marcel Minnaert's book The Nature of Light and Colour in the Open Air and look at the world with it. It's not just rainbows and halos, it's close observation of rippling water and landscapes from a train and oil spots on wet pavement, and how they all work.

Geology! You can see thousands and millions of years back in time by looking at familiar surroundings.
posted by away for regrooving at 11:16 PM on January 17 [2 favorites]

I recently joined an online group about spiders in my area. I’ve never really minded spiders but this has made me so excited about them! I look at a photo of a spider and think how cute, or how beautiful it is, and if I find one in my house I’m thrilled. There are a lot of people in the group who used to be really freaked out by spiders, who now are fascinated by them. It’s amazing.
I also got a super cheap macro lens that clips on my phone and it’s opened up a whole new world of insect photography.
posted by exceptinsects at 7:40 AM on January 18 [1 favorite]

It's not coming naturally at all to me, but I am (theoretically) trying to study for my ham radio license. If I ever manage to do it, I think I'll finally understand how electricity works for the first time in my life. Ham friends who have been in it for a while say that it totally changes their perspective on mass communications, our over-reliance on corporations for mediating our communications, and disaster preparations.
posted by mostly vowels at 7:55 AM on January 18 [2 favorites]

I love to see so many birders here. It really is a transformative pursuit, I have literally rearranged my entire life so I could do more. First you realize just how damn many birds (and bugs! And mammals! LIFE!) exist around you just doing their own thing, even in the city. My work involves daily bird census, walking the same paths and counting the resident and migrating birds every day, and it has given me such an intimate understanding of that patch of land. I can recognize individuals by their song, I can tell the exact day migrant species arrive... The whole thing is deeply grounding.
Also cosigning mushroom hunting, which happens to be a perfect complement to birding. Seems scary at first, but this book, a paper bag and a good pair of shoes is really all you need to get started.
posted by Freyja at 9:45 AM on January 18 [2 favorites]

Gardening. My garden is in the front and side yards, out where people walk by,
since I don't have much of a back yard. I now know more of my neighbors than I ever have in my life. People come by and take pictures and tell me they come by every day because my garden makes them happy. It's mostly the sunflowers, which tower, with a single giant bloom, 13 ft. up in the air. I did not plant them. One of my friends planted them as a joke. Now I'm the sunflower lady and I plant them every year because it makes people smile.
posted by BoscosMom at 2:06 AM on January 19 [1 favorite]


Ultimately, become fearless speaking and performing in front of other people.
Intermediately, recover your inner 5-yr old sense of play and fun
Short termly, laugh and surprise yourself at what you and your co-performers can come up with, with no conscious effort.
posted by storybored at 7:13 PM on January 21

Does consuming psychedelic chemicals count as a hobby? Because if you want a radical expansion in your worldview, that's certainly capable of delivering one even if the initial motivation is merely mood enhancement.
posted by flabdablet at 5:30 AM on January 22

Cooking. In addition to the obvious possibilities around changing your relationship with food, getting into cooking the foods of a specific region will lead you to seek out ingredients you have never heard of before, learn new words, even learn about the history of the region.
posted by yohko at 11:57 PM on January 29

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