The Psychology of Woodworking
Us Woodworkers like Woodworking. But did you know that Woodworking loves us back?
Yes, woodworking is good for your mental health. And there’s research to back this up. So if anybody is ever complaining to you about your hours spent on woodworking, just tell them that you need it. You need it to stay sane. Just keep a bookmark to this page and send it to them when the need arises 😉
I’ll break this down into two simple parts: 1) Why do we like woodworking? and 2) Why is woodworking good for us?
Why do we like woodworking?
Imagine someone asking you why you like woodworking. There never is one right answer, so probably you mumble something in the line of “I like to make something from raw materials” or “I like to work with my hands” or some other unsatisfactory answer like “I like the smell of wood”.
The answers above just won’t cut it because there is more to it, and you know it, but you can’t verbalize your reasons.
My best answer is: “It’s basic psychology, really.”
And here is why it’s psychology:
In his book “Flow: The Psychology of the Optimal Experience.”, University of Chicago psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes what he calls “elements of enjoyment”. These elements of enjoyment describe your optimal experience of things you do. So, if you fulfill a number of his elements of enjoyment, then you will have an optimal experience of what you’re doing.
In the case of woodworking, this boils down to the following. If multiple of the following points apply to you, you’re bound to like woodworking.
1) It’s a challenging task. Woodworking is not simple enough to get boring, and is not complicated enough to create anxiety.
2) Merging of action and awareness. You’re just there in your zone, doing it. You’re not conscious of yourself standing in your shop “woodworking.” You are simply a part of the process and the woodworking happens.
3) Clear goals. You know exactly what you want to build and how you want it to look.
4) Immediate feedback. You look at what you’re doing and you know that it’s right or wrong.
5) High degree of concentration. You’re absolutely into it. Most things that would distract you go unnoticed.
6) Altered sense of time. You’re not really aware of how much time has passed until your wife comes to your shop and says, “I called three times already. Are you EVER coming to eat?”
And that’s really it. Basic psychology.
Why is woodworking good for Us?
Modern day society focuses on monetary value, and practically everything else is of less importance. Everything needs to go quickly and it’s the result that counts. The actual process of making things doesn’t seem to have any value in society. What we are forgetting is that there is personal and mental value in the making of things. We human beings profit from producing things.
And scientific research shows that the actual process has value in the sense that making something gives personal fulfillment, promotes creativity and mental wellbeing.
Research has shown that creating or tending things by hand enhances mental health and makes us happy. We spend too much time on our technological devices and we buy almost all of what we need rather than make it. This means that we spend less time doing things that provide pleasure, meaning and pride.
Making things improves psychological well-being because when we make or repair things we feel vital and effective. It’s more about doing something interesting than that it is about reaching one’s potential. It’s less about ambition and more about living. When we are focusing on a deeply absorbing task we lose self-consciousness and pass the time in a contented state.
Research has shown that hand activity like woodworking is useful for decreasing stress, relieving anxiety, and modifying depression. The value is in the routine action, the mind rest, and the purposeful work. Working with your hands also leads to a mind set that leads to spontaneous joyful, creative thought. Thus, creative action can function as a natural antidepressant. In the words of D.W. Winnicott, psychoanalyst, pediatrician and creativity expert, “It is creative apperceptionapperception = the mental process by which a person makes sense of an idea by assimilating it to the body of ideas he or she already posesses more than anything else that makes the individual feel that life is worth living.”
The above text is based on the following sources: