Boredom can be a dangerous thing. The human brain is so powerful and complex that bad things start happening if you give it nothing to do, and that goes double if you cut someone off from all forms of human contact. On the other hand, some pretty fun things have come from people getting bored. Those are the times when people come up with games, stories, and every kind of entertainment that keeps us busy when we need to keep ourselves occupied.

Over time, these leisure activities have become more complex and sophisticated as new generations built on older ideas. Technology has also played a massive role, both by giving us new tools and equipment to play with and by giving us more spare time to have fun. Leisure activities have come a long way since people lived in tribes and mud huts, and it’s amazing to think just how far we’ve come and just how similar today’s hobbies and sports are compared to the ones the ancients had.


Image via Flickr by Rusty Darbonne

Telling stories is one of the essential arts of humanity. It’s how people brag about what they did and it’s how older generations pass on the lessons they’ve learned. You could make a solid argument that memories are stories that we tell ourselves. The basic art form is a person telling a story in front of a crowd, but the art has branched out in a dozen different directions since then.

When you add extra people to act out different roles in the story, it becomes a stage play, and stage plays eventually led to radio plays, films, and TV shows. Before writing existed, storytellers had to memorize every story in their heads, and so they’d use even meters and rhymes to make the words easier to remember. This was the first use of poetry. Then after people invented writing, they would write down their stories and give rise to histories, memoirs, fiction novels, and all the different genres that exist today.

Music and Dancing

Image via Flickr by Marco Verch

The basic point of music is to share emotions and experiences. That’s why the best-known songs always have emotional connections or have ear-worm melodies that appeal to a deep part of your brain. The basics of music haven’t changed much over the millennia, but over time people developed new instruments to get more exotic sounds or to make playing songs easier to handle.

Then there’s dancing, which is linked to music at the hip. After all, even if you try to dance without a beat or a tune you need to imagine one playing in your head. Dancing has always had a few basic purposes: many world religions have ceremonial dances; dancing can be an intimate moment between partners, and dancing can be a social experience where you show off your skills. Dancing can also be a form of expression. Today’s dances often have strict rules, but the basics of dancing haven’t changed since the human body is still the same.


Image via Flickr by Nicolas Nova

Games are what you get when two people come up with a set of rules and then stick with those rules until someone wins. Cheating is almost as old as games since you can always break the rules to get ahead, But when you’re just playing to pass the time, cheating makes you look petty and bad at the game.

You can divide games into two categories: games of chance and games of skill. A game of skill is one you can win consistently if you’re better at doing what the game wants you to do. Darts is a game of skill because good players can always hit the bull’s-eye, and so are chess, checkers, and all kinds of other board and card games. Every sport boils down to a game of skill, too, although people usually use the word for games you have to be in good shape to play.

Then there’s the games of chance. Games of chance have players bet on a random outcome, although there’s some skill involved in games like poker and blackjack. Other games are completely random, like roulette, wheels of fortune, and most dice games. Because games of chance let you win without working for it, they can lead to gambling problems. That leads to organizations that try to ban gambling, although that’s about as effective as trying to ban music or dancing. You can find one good example of this back-and-forth by looking at the history of gambling in New Jersey.

The history of leisure activities is the same as the history of everything else: what started out as basic and crude grew more complex and sophisticated thanks to time and technology. Thanks to online connections, city parks, and local organizations, you can do one of a million things during your free time today, and that includes this article that you just finished reading.

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