Hobby — it seems like a word from another time.

The dictionary defines it as “An activity done regularly in one’s leisure time for pleasure,” but the concept of hobbies and leisure time seem like foreign concepts. You know, it’s that time you have free when you’re not working. If you spend that time helping your kids with homework, binge-watching TV shows or doing laundry, those don’t count as hobbies. If you just realized you don’t have a hobby, you might want to rethink that (especially if you find yourself regularly stressed out). Hobbies — things that occupy your mind and/or body — are a great way to forget about work. In fact, a lot of research has looked at the stress-reducing properties of hobbies

So the stuff you do outside your money-making ventures is important. You'll have fun doing them and they will likely ease your daily stress. Here are some ideas to get you started.

woman with binoculars bird watchingBird watching. If you enjoy being outside but aren't sure what to do when you get there, bird watching could be a great hobby for you. It combines several senses, including listening for bird calls, and finding and identifying birds by sight. In most areas, birds migrate, so there are likely to be different birds to see from season to season. And there are bird-watching clubs if you want to make it a social activity — but it's great for going solo, too. (Look up your local Audubon Society to get involved.) If you have kids, it's an ideal hobby to share with them, because children enjoy being able to spot birds and can learn names and identifications quickly.

Knitting or crocheting. If you find yourself folding paper absentmindedly or twisting random threads when you're watching TV or waiting in a doctor’s office, you might find that occupying your hands is relaxing. Once you get the basics down, you can carry on conversations while you knit, and a knitting circle might be ideal to socialize or learn new techniques. For many, knitting is a form of solo meditation (some have even equated knitting with yoga). The beauty of knitting and crocheting is that you can start with the basics and still be able to make something you can wear relatively quickly. And then the level of complexity goes up, and can be either challenging (if you are into that) or just a relaxing repetitive activity.

Gardening. Working in the soil can be a particularly rewarding hobby because you get some great side benefits from it, like improving the value of your home, making your living environment more pleasant and attractive, and growing food you can eat. Again, you can start with the basics, growing some lettuce or basics from seeds. Then, as you learn more about plants, you can add to that knowledge. It's empowering to grow flowers and veggies and will get you in rhythm with the seasons and get you outdoors more often, too. 

Home brewing. This isn’t just about drinking beer, but about crafting it as well. It’s complex and variable enough to be interesting, but not so hard that you can’t jump into it and give it a good shot with minimal training. So the basic reward of a good bottle of beer isn't too hard to enjoy, and from there you can create your own personal variety. If you're someone who likes to tinker and experiment (or who enjoyed high school chemistry), this could be a fun hobby for you. Plus, you'll always have a great, homemade gift to give friends and family. 

woman holding mushroomMushroom hunting. This hobby has grown in popularity in recent years, and most parks and local nature centers seem to offer classes in finding fungus. This is one past time where you might want to start with taking an in-person primer in the subject because mushrooms are pretty complex (and you shouldn’t eat any mushrooms you find just by identifying them in a guidebook). Of course, you can go mushroom hunting without the intent to eat them. All you need is a good pair of walking shoes, a guidebook and maybe a magnifying glass if you want to get up close and personal. 

Painting. You don’t need as many materials to start painting as you might think. Starting with watercolors means you simply need a couple brushes, a set of watercolor paints and some good-quality watercolor paper, which you should be able to find at any art-supply or crafts store for around $25. You can start right away. Practice some still lifes made from kitchen fruit, or your cat while she's sleeping. If you want to take a class, they are easy to find, or check out one of the many YouTube videos that give instruction on specific techniques. Hike out to a beautiful vista (watercolors are lightweight), or stay at home. Of course, you could also experiment with pastels or oil paints (though they are messier).

Photography. This is an easier hobby to get into than during previous eras, where developing film was time-consuming (if you did it yourself) and expensive (if someone else did it for you). Now, of course, a good digital camera means you can get into photography with low cost and risk. Starting with the camera on your phone will get you knowledgeable about the basics of how light works. You can take 150 pictures and delete 148 of them, and you'll be learning the whole time. The trick is to pick one subject and take the time to photograph it from every angle.You can also learn about more complex camera features from how-to videos. And practice. 

couple taking dance lessonsDancing. If you’re itching for a new way to get some exercise and can’t stomach any more time at the gym, there’s a huge variety of dance to try, from individual modern dancing to group ecstatic dance (popular in large metro areas through groups like TransDance and Soul Motion), as well as traditional ballroom and salsa dances. While the former might mean you need to take paid lessons to begin, most cities have salsa clubs with free lessons to get people started. Dance is a way to get out of your head, into your body, and to move in a completely different way than you typically do.

Of course there are plenty of other hobbies, from taking part in historical reenactments (especially popular on the East Coast and South), to pottery, baking and embroidery. You may need to try a few of them until you find one that’s a great fit for you, but once you do, any and all of these ideas can be lifelong pursuits. 

Related on MNN: 

Photos: bird watching: Diego Cervo /Shutterstock; mushroom: BestPhotoStudio /Shutterstock; dancing: Olga Rosi /Shutterstock

Starre Vartan ( @ecochickie ) covers conscious consumption, health and science as she travels the world exploring new cultures and ideas.