Back to Basics: The Many Benefits of Working With Your Hands

Although it’s possible to buy anything you need already made, many people – even scientific experts – are discovering that creating items by hand has many benefits. Here are some of the reasons you might want to try it and why crafting is making a serious comeback.

The Psychology Of Woodworking and Crafting

One of the biggest benefits to working with your hands is the psychological benefit. In a May 2012 article called “Creativity, Happiness, and Your Own Two Hands,” professor Dr. Kelly Lambert demonstrated the results of her study on the effects that hand use and cultural habits have on mood and behavior.

The article was published in Psychology Today.

Basically, some research has shown that making woodworking plans, gathering materials, and spending time working with your hands decreases stress, relieves anxiety, and modifies depression.

Routine actions, can also lead to spontaneous joyful or creative thought. And peak moments happen when an individual daydreams, putters around the house or garden, or ponders ideas.

Dr. Lambert’s research also showed that working with our hands, whether it’s woodworking, gardening, sewing, or baking (or doing something else entirely) fulfills a “primal need” to create things. That doesn’t always happen in our lives, especially when we work in inherently creative or cognitive fields which require us to sit in front of computers all day long.

Most people purchase items we need and use technology to relax or “chill out.” But, this is backwards, and robs us of the pleasure and pride of making something with our hands.

The Rewards

In 2010, Matthew Crawford published a book titled, “The Case for Working With Your Hands: Or Why Office Work Is Bad For Us and Fixing Things Feels Good,” in which he explored the idea of “knowledge work” and why it has not fulfilled our basic needs as human beings.

Shop class, home economics, and other “hands on” classes are no longer taught in school to the same degree (or at all) that they once were. “Hands on” work allows us to see a project through, from start to finish, and thus to feel a sense of accomplishment.

Another reward comes in the form of selling or sharing what we’ve made. It serves as external, or social, proof of our efficacy. It’s a physical manifestation of our mental work, and it gives us a physical representation of what we’ve cultivated in our minds.

Increased Brain Activity

Some research also shows that using or working with our hands increases our brain activity. Our brains devote a lot of energy to the movements we make with our hands – more so than with our feet, hips or other body parts.

When we reach for a hammer, the carpenter’s brain needs to figure out what hands muscles to contract, in which order, the pressure to apply, and so on.

The amount of arm strength needed to pick up the tool and how to swing it through the air for the desired result. It’s very complex, and yet it happens in fractions of a second.

We Boost Our Memory And Creative Thinking When Using Our Hands

Some new research suggests that writing with our hands gives us important cognitive benefits. Most people are familiar with using computer keyboards. Whether it’s typing an email or tapping out a text-message, we’re used to using technology to communicate.

But, the simplistic pen and paper gives us so much more freedom and connects our brains to what we’re writing.

In the U.S. however, technology is ubiquitous, and many schools have dropped cursive writing from English curriculums altogether under Common Core standards.

Experts have also noted that typing and writing use very different cognitive processes. Handwriting is a complex task that requires specific coordination unique to the writing process. It requires directing movement by thought.

Children require several years of training to master this ski. Operating a keyboard requires a different set of motor pathways and skill. All you have to do is press the right key. And, it’s easier, much easier, to teach a child to do that. The movement is the same for every letter, so no thought it required in the process – just memorization.

Children don’t have to learn or think about the difference between letters, numbers, and symbols. They only need to memorize placement on a keyboard and an image of the letter, number, or symbol they want to type.

Drawing out letters also dramatically increases future recognition, according to many neuroscientists.

So, maybe it’s time to get back to basics. Put away your computer, shut off your gadgets. Go grab a pen and paper, go outside and dig your hands into the dirt, or pick up a hammer. It’s good for your mind, and for your body.



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Chad is the co-founder of Unfinished Man, a leading men's lifestyle site. He provides straightforward advice on fashion, tech, and relationships based on his own experiences and product tests. Chad's relaxed flair makes him the site's accessible expert for savvy young professionals seeking trustworthy recommendations on living well.

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