Living a Passionate Life
By Maggy Howe; photographed by Burcu Avsar
Hobbies add meaning to our lives — and may even help us live
Have you ever become so involved in an activity that you lost all sense of
time, worries wilted away, and stress disappeared? If so, you were probably
either in love or immersed in a keen interest — a passion or hobby that helped
you to get outside yourself. Such idealized moments are available to each of
us. All we need to do is engage ourselves in a pastime and stay involved.
Whether volunteering at a local hospital, growing heirloom roses, singing in a
choir, or collecting stamps postmarked from post offices all across the
country, passionate pursuits not only benefit the people who pursue them, but
also those around them. Passions are contagious — they have a way of rousing
even the most languid souls.
Every hobby teaches you something, says Susan Sheehan, author of The
Banana Sculptor, the Purple Lady , and the All-Night Swimmer: Hobbies,
Collecting, and Other Passionate Pursuits (Simon & Schuster; 2002). In
the book, Sheehan and coauthor Howard Means describe hobbyists and collectors
all across the United States and how their pursuits benefit them. Often a hobby
is what gives someone self-definition: "It's what gives her focus,"
says Sheehan, who notes that people who are engrossed in such pursuits are
often easy to talk to, as well. "Their horizons have been broadened by
their pastime and some have enjoyed extraordinary adventures."
Sheehan recalls a young man in the insurance business who loved to canoe in
the Arctic wilderness every summer. His year was spent planning for his trip
and getting in shape for the adventure. His hobby enriched his spirit
immensely, Sheehan points out. Another woman she interviewed held a record for
having won more than 3,000 ribbons for baking at the Iowa State Fair. "She
is from a very small town and her accomplishments continue to broaden her
life," Sheehan says. A Minnesota pickle company eventually put the woman's
picture on the label of one of its lines of pickles, and even sent her on a
pickle tour in the Midwest.
Dr. Walter Bortz, an associate clinical professor of medicine at Stanford
University, in Stanford, Calif., and author of Dare to Be 100 (Simon
& Schuster; 1996), found that elderly patients who were active led more
fulfilling, healthier lives than patients who weren't. Although Bortz doesn't
know of any hard data confirming that stamp collectors, for instance, live
longer, he is confident that this is true. "People who stay involved have a
tendency to live longer, as they have more reasons to get out of bed in the
morning," Bortz says. "Their interests stimulate their brains and this
gets their bodies moving." He asserts that the brain, just like the muscles
in our bodies, needs exercise — especially once aging begins and movement