A case for having activities instead of hobbies

by Terri

Friends! Today we have a post from Terri Pous, who was my first hire at BuzzFeed, and whose work I had the pleasure of editing every day for three years. Like me, she lives by the mantra ABR (always be recommending). —Rachel ✨

One of my least favorite questions is, “So, what do you for fun?” I always imagine people expect me to talk about a stamp collection, or a passion for knitting, or some other kind of hobby that conveniently fills time and gives you something to show for it. But I’m not a hobby person; I much prefer activities.

And, I get it: depending on your definition of “hobby,” activities could easily count as the same thing. To me, though, all hobbies are activities, but not all activities are hobbies. Lying on the grass in the park on a nice day? Activity! Going to the park every weekend with your Nat Geo field guide to identify the birds chirping loudly overhead? Hobby!

I like that activities have almost no barrier to entry. It’s daunting to begin a hobby — the time, skill, or effort involved can be enough to stop you before you even buy that calligraphy set. A hobby is something you craft and pursue and, if you’re lucky, perfect over time. It’s often insular, something you could parlay into a side hustle (though you don’t have to). And unless you know something I don’t (and if you do, please @ me), you can’t really make a side hustle out of planning trips to the botanical gardens with friends.

But activities! God, I love them. If Doing Things is a personality trait, then I have it. It’s probably because I live in New York, concrete jungle wet dream tomato AND home of so. many. ‘tivities. You can just pick up and do almost any activity whenever you want to do it, and a lot of them cost zero money. That’s not to say you can’t try refining them the way you would a hobby, but you don’t have to to get enjoyment out of them. They’re no-maintenance and low-stress. So much of life is about staying on brand or doing things with purpose, but activities exist just for sheer enjoyment, whatever that means for you. Love being outside? There’s an activity for that! Can’t get enough of shoveling foodstuffs into your piehole? You can make an activity out of that, too! Activities are so easy to collect and return to again and again, which is a big reason why I’ll always prefer them over hobbies.

Here are some of my personal faves, ones that even a committed extrovert like me doesn’t mind doing alone:

  • Trying new restaurants (and then providing copious suggestions when people ask for recommendations).

    I’ve started logging all of my restaurant visits into a Google spreadsheet, so you could argue that I’m hobb-ifying this activity.

  • Going to Broadway shows.

    Once I realized you don’t have to pay $100+ to enjoy arguably the best activity New York City has to offer, I started going to a lot more shows. I use TodayTix, Stubhub, TDF, and the IRL TKTS booth. And when I do decide to pay full price, I go to the box office in person to avoid those $14 “convenience” fees.

  • Visiting museums.

    Thanks to the NYC ID, I can get into a lot of museums and cultural institutions for free. But I’d willingly spend weekday afternoons at museums even if I had to pay full price. A few of my faves: The Met, the Transit Museum, the Natural History Museum, the New-York Historical Society, the Museum of the City of New York, the Guggenheim, the Cooper Hewitt. I need to go the Frick. I have lots of time to do it now!

  • Attending live podcast recordings.

    I’m a maje podcast junkie, and luckily, a lot of them sometimes set up shop at venues like The Bell House, Caveat, and Union Hall to do it live. I’ve seen Who? Weekly, WTF with Marc Maron, Ask Me Another (I was a contestant on that one, too), Why Your Train is F*cked, and several more in person.

  • Playing bar trivia.

    I’m a big ‘ole nerd, which is why this is probably my fave ‘tivity. I try to play every week at Gael Pub on the Upper East Side (where I used to host), and even when we don’t win, I love ~ learning new things ~. It sounds cheesy, but this activity has taught me so much about playing with a team and meeting new people! Win win!

  • Reading, especially non-fiction books.

    Again, I’m a well-established nerd, so it’s no surprise that I love hunkering down with a good biography of Theodore Roosevelt. It’s not a revolutionary activity, but it is a good way to pack some new tidbits into my spaghetti brain and then regurgitate them to anyone within a 10-foot radius.

  • Doing jigsaw puzzles.

    Some people are intimidated by puzzles and would probably place them squarely into the “hobbies” category, but I disagree! They’re an activity for me, one best done while watching Catastrophe or Instant Hotel in the background. If you’re freaked out at the prospect of a 1,000-piecer, try a 250 and tell me it wasn’t fun, low-key, and something you want to do over and over again for no reason other than sheer enjoyment.

  • Hosting (and/or coordinating) group hangouts.

    I’m talking game nights, dinner parties, potlucks, recipe clubs, you name it. I love getting people together with a purpose (I’m as fun as I sound), especially if there’s food involved.

  • Playing board games.

    See above. I recently went to a board game cafe with a friend, and while we failed miserably at learning a new game and instead played Guess Who? and Candyland, it was still a ton of fun and a reminder of how great board games are. Some of my favorites are Codenames and Ticket to Ride, and I’m eager to learn backgammon, Settlers of Catan, and Mahjong.

  • Watching documentaries.
    I’m not a huge movie or TV person, but if there’s a good documentary, I’ll eat it up (and then proselytize about it to everyone I know). Some good ones I’ve seen: Seeing Allred, 20 Feet from Stardom, Three Identical Strangers, Icarus, Going Clear.

  • Just strollin’.
    A big advantage of living in New York (and suddenly having lots of free time) is being able to walk outside and see where your feet take you. Even though we’re currently in the midst of a fool’s spring, I’ll still pick a destination or neighborhood or errand, and just stroll around at a leisurely pace to get there. It’s a perfect way to listen to a podcast, catch up with someone on the phone, or just take out the earbuds and take in your surroundings. It’s not exactly nature, but it’s as close as New York gets, so I’ll take it. ✨

Terri Pous is a writer, editor, two-day Jeopardy! champ, and an Aries. She loves abbrevs, reality TV, obscure facts about the US presidents, and the 🥴 emoji. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram @terripous, and on sidewalks @ petting every dog.


Hobbies, Living