She has scarcely any free time. Her social life revolves around these groups. Jordan has played in the Monday evening quintet for 30 years. On Thursday evenings, she sees the most progress in her cornetto playing, plus the puns are lightning fast and the jokes are the funniest.
Jordan figures the cornetto will challenge her for another five years. She's already mastered the shawm. Next, she might tackle the rebec, a stringed instrument that predates the violin.
"When I pick up the horn and make a sound, and if today is better than yesterday, that's all I need," Jordan said.
People like Jordan have a greater need for stimulation than, say, your average couch potato, according to Howard Tinsley, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Florida.
But Tinsley found that wasn't all that drew individuals to various hobbies. In one study, Tinsley analyzed the responses of 3,771 individuals who participated in a recreational activity. Not surprisingly, many participants said physical exertion or exercise was an important benefit. But the second most commonly cited perk was social involvement.
In mastering a skill, Jordan also gained a community of fellow devotees. Tinsley and others theorize that part of what attracts people to an activity is the sense of belonging, the feeling of relatedness--even when the activity may be intensely personal and individualistic.
A potter, for instance, might spend hours alone in his studio, but he'll meet with other ceramic masters at a show, or discuss new tools over coffee.
In part, people derive pleasure from a hobby because it provides a sense of autonomy and control, Tinsley said. At work, most people are supervised and required to perform certain tasks. Serious leisure, however, is a choice.
"People need to feel like they're making the decision," Tinsley said. "That distinguishes work from leisure; we perceive ourselves as having more choice with leisure."
Serious leisure doesn't mean watching television; it requires effort and commitment. In some cases, it can mean constant training.
"Passion is the key ingredient to engagement; it's why you do what you do and it's how you do what you do," said Tara Scanlon, a UCLA professor of psychology and director of the International Center for Talent Development. She has studied more than 1,000 youth athletes in an effort to determine why some dedicate themselves and others drop out of a sport.
Commitment is related to enjoyment, she said. "It's having the desire and determination to continue or persist in an activity over time."
A Passion for Ceramics Put Balance in His Life
Doug Louie used to come home after work and think: Isn't there more to life? Louie, 51, loved his job teaching algebra at a Los Angeles public high school. But weekdays seemed neatly parceled into eight hours at work and evenings off. Days slid by with the monotony of a factory conveyor belt. Louie tried playing piano, then guitar. He even picked up the saxophone. But he hated practicing. He lacked the patience for making jewelry. His painting was awful.
On a whim, he took a ceramics class. He enjoyed feeling his fingers in clay and the inevitable surprises when he opened the kiln to see his glazed crockery. His first mug was exhilarating.
Louie soon realized that ceramics provided balance in his life. "I wouldn't give up my day job to do this all the time--then the other half would be missing," he said.
When he's doing ceramics, Louie's focus is so great that he's aware of little else. "If you are working on pots, you lose yourself in it; you zone out and are somewhere else for a while," Louie said.
Being so immersed in an activity that a person becomes oblivious to the outside world is known as "flow." The term, conceived by psychologist Mihaly Csikzenthmihalyi, refers to when a person's mind or body is engaged in a pursuit.
"Flow comes from matching challenges and skills," said Csikzenthmihalyi, who has researched and written for years about what makes people happy. "When you are in flow, you are not aware of being happy, but afterward, you look back and say it was the happiest time."
Children easily feel a sense of flow, said Csikzenthmihalyi. But for adults, the process can be more difficult. Based on studies, Csikzenthmihalyi estimates that between 10% and 15% of the population achieve flow every day.
It is not that some sports or activities are more capable of producing flow than others, he said. It's more a question of an individual finding the right activity. Depending on their jobs, some people achieve flow during work; others are more apt to lose themselves with a hobby.
Defense attorney William Kroger used to take his bike to the top of a mountain and zoom down trails at speeds reaching 40 mph--a risky sport called downhill mountain biking. Then four years ago, Kroger, a wiry 6-foot, 1-inch man, started rock climbing.