The value of hobbies
Tracey Brown, director of the charity Sense about Science, has shown that too many middle-class parents are using home-testing kits to diagnose their children as suffering from allergies which they do not in fact have. Some of these children suffer symptoms of malnutrition because their parents have responded to the perceived allergy by restricting their diets. She cited a study on the Isle of Wight which found that 34% of parents believed their child had a food allergy when in fact only 5% had one.
I know that teachers who talk about the ‘unique stress’ faced by children today are simply exaggerating to make a point. But they contribute to a wider trend which Amanda Foreman describes as the ‘medicalisation of life… an entire industry dedicated to turning the human condition into a chronic disease.’
20% of pupils in England are classified as having Special Educational Needs. The largest categories are “moderate learning difficulty” (24.2%), behaviour, emotional and social difficulties (22.7%) and speech, language and communications needs (16.3%). According to the Mental Health Foundation ‘20% of children have a mental health problem in any given year, and about 10% at any one time.’
Does being diagnosed with a ‘problem’ such as an allergy or special educational need help the children concerned? Clearly not if the diagnosis is wrong, as it often is. Clearly not if it undermines the child’s willingness to make an effort to overcome the problem by blaming things on physical and mental health issues which seem outside their control.
Winston Churchill worked as hard as any man could and in the most stressful circumstances – immensely long hours with huge responsibilities. He explained in his writings that this was made possible by his cultivation of hobbies.
Change is the master key. A man can wear out a particular part of his mind by continually using it and tiring it, just in the same way as he can wear out the elbows of his coat. There is, however, this difference between the living cells of the brain and inanimate articles: one cannot mend the frayed elbows of a coat by rubbing the sleeves or shoulders; but the tired parts of the mind can be rested and strengthened not merely by rest, but by using other parts. To be really happy and really safe, one ought to have at least two or three hobbies.
Painting came to my rescue in a most trying time. Some experiments one Sunday in the country with the children’s paintbox led me to procure the next morning a complete outfit for painting in oils. I have never found anything like it to take one’s mind, for a spell, off grave matters. Golf is simply no use to me for this purpose. I find myself thinking about serious business half the time. But no one can paint or try to paint…and think of anything else. Two or three hours pass in a flash. One forgets utterly the work of the past or the worry of the future.
Painting is a friend who makes no undue demands, excites no exhausting pursuits, keeps faithful pace even with feeble steps, and holds her canvas as a screen between us and the envious eyes of Time or the surly advance of Decrepitude.
I have found as much real satisfaction in laying, well and truly, a course of bricks as in confuting the arguments of a political opponent in the House of Commons. The pleasure and refreshment which bricklaying has afforded me are due to the fact that it is a complete change from my ordinary occupations. That, indeed is the element which is constant and common in all true recreation.
Politics and writing were his work. Art and bricklaying sustained him in that work. Could it be that some of the children who suffer such ‘unique stress’ need not medical treatment, not counselling and mindfulness lessons, but a decent hobby in which they can immerse themselves?