Why You Should Learn a New Craft

a new craft blond spoon hand-carved from maple wood

The act of discovery involves a certain beauty. It’s an artform that reveals itself when we explore something new. As when we hike along a ridge and come upon an awesome vista. Or we interview our friend and learn that she used to visit inmates in federal prison to capture their life stories. Discovery is an act of uncovering; it seldom comes to us.

The same is true with learning a new craft. Only by exploring the nuances and idiosyncrasies of a new craft do we discover how things work. And in so doing, how we fit into the broader cycling of earthly things.

I’m sure we’ve all heard that practicing a new skill keeps our brains sharp, enhancing our level of hipness at the same time.  And of course,we know that keeping busy with crafts keep us out of trouble – you know what they say about idle hands and all.

But I’m thinking about something deeper, more gratifying. When I try out a new wood carving technique, for example, or even imagine myself weaving a basket – something I can’t do now – I broaden my perspective on what life can and should be.

I imagine a day when virtually all of my actions serve my needs and the needs of close others. And through this perceptual expansion of life’s possibilities, I build a repertoire. I gather up vernacular crafts and skills that together make up a more meaningful existence.

And though you might think me a fool, all of this musing is in line with psychologist Barbara Frederickson’s broaden-and-build theory.  

In her theory, she talks about positive emotions – e.g., joy, interest, contentment, love. That when we partake in some meaningful activity, like being in the company of good friends, the activity enhances our positive emotions, which then broaden our awareness and compel us to seek out novel, varied, and exploratory thoughts and actions.

Say I begin learning that new wood carving technique. This development increases my happiness and interest, which then drives me to explore ways of carving something I’ve never carved before. Thus inspired, I  set out to learn more about novel crafts like basket weaving or liquor distilling or fence building or garden establishing or trumpet playing or cloth making.

By learning a new craft, we broaden our horizons. We begin the messy work of building a purposeful life.

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