When was the last time you worked with your hands? Okay, right now you’re probably typing on a computer, sliding your fingers around a pad, or swiping them across a screen. But what about fixing or making something with your hands? When was the last time you did that? For me, I finished carving a wooden spatula a few days ago. And this morning I used a screwdriver to tune my bike’s derailleur to improve its shifting between gears.
Yet it wasn’t always this way. When I was in college, I partook in what I like to call “knowledge economy snobbery.” If what I or others studied wasn’t esoteric or abstract enough, I considered it useless or silly. I’d joke about taking “easy” courses like basket-weaving, while feeling boastful about studying “hard” fields like neuroscience. Of course, I see the world differently now.
I’ve learned how working with my hands affords me pleasures abstractions do not and cannot. And I was delighted to discover that my experience is supported by research.
So without further adieu, I offer 5 benefits of working with our hands:
- Benefit 1: We enjoy a graspable satisfaction in seeing evidence of our efforts. Crocheting a hat provides the crocheter incremental feedback on her progress. And when finished, she can hold, feel, twirl, and stretch her creation. What a joy! Alternatively, working in an office seldom provides the worker with feedback on her progress. What has she accomplished at the end of any given day? Okay, she “responded” to 100 emails. But, where’s the tangible evidence of accomplishment? What a drag!
- Benefit 2: Hands-on activity, such as gardening, can make us happier and more productive. Gardening in his plot, the gardener, through the pleasing act of pushing his hand into soil, releases plumes of beneficial microbes and bacteria, which enter his nostrils and mouth. One such bacteria—mycobacterim vaccae–triggers the release of Serotonin in the gardener’s brain. The now abundant serotonin that dances about the gardner’s brain lifts his spirits and helps him regulate his mood throughout the day.
- Benefit 3: We use more of our brains when moving our hands than when using our legs, hips, or back muscles. Ever see a sensory-motor homunculus,? It’s a funny representation of the “body within the brain” or how much our brains devote to different sensory-motor functions. It’s clear: our brains devote a lot of energy to the movements we make with our hands. When reaching for a hammer, the carpenter’s brain must figure out which muscles to contract and in which order; the amount of strength needed to pick up the tool; and she determine the weight of the hammer all before signaling to her hand the force, position, and series of small movements needed to pick up and swing the tool. When working with our hands, we are giving our brains a serious workout.
- Benefit 4: We often boost our memory and creative thinking when we use our hands. Writing something by hand grants the writer greater access to his memory and natural creativity than typing an email or tapping a text. To convey thoughts in handwriting is a complex, sensuous task: the writer feels the pen and paper, guides the movement of the pen, and syncs his movements with his thoughts. Not only that, paper allows for much greater creative freedom than does the screen. On paper, the writer can scribble ideas on both sides, jot notes in the margins, alternate between print and cursive. His mistakes and rewordings show themselves on the page. The typist must adhere to boxed margins and pre-fabricated fonts. And his deleted text and re-arrangements hide themselves from view.
- Benefit 5: By working with our hands, we begin doing what as humans we’re designed to do! Our hands are meant to gather, caress, manipulate tools, build fires, sweep, draw, fashion clothing and tools, signal, feel, eat. Let’s make full use of our hands!