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Thursday, July 18, 2024

Make Something With Your Hands (Even if It’s Hideous)

HealthMake Something With Your Hands (Even if It’s Hideous)

I once decorated a mirror with shells, but I keep it in a closet. I’m fond of it, even though it looks a little sloppy. Sometimes I’ll debate whether to toss it, and then gently put it back on the shelf.

As it turns out, a lot of us have strong attachments to things we make — even when they’re kind of hideous, said Michael Norton, a professor of business administration at Harvard and the author of “The Ritual Effect.”

Dr. Norton once took a stone-carving class, he told me, and tried to chisel a symbol (“the best description I can give is a circle shape with flames”), but part of the stone broke off “so it looked like it was made by a toddler.” Yet every time he moved homes, he carefully wrapped the stone nub in bubble tape and brought it with him.

This is because we often see the things we make as part of our identities, said Dr. Norton, who has conducted research on how people come to value objects. Our creations help us “feel a sense of confidence and a sense of mastery that is really hard to get sometimes in other places,” he added.

Making something with your hands is also good for your brain. And research shows that do-it-yourself projects, whether planting an herb garden or building a birdhouse, are rewarding; they can help boost happiness and lower stress.

When was the last time you made something, just for the fun of it? If you want to become a maker (or if it’s been a while), here’s how to get started.

Christianne Strang, an art therapist and assistant professor of psychology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, recommended that you start small by doodling for a few minutes in the morning while your coffee is brewing.

Air-dry modeling clay, she added, is also “great for using your hands.” (And you can easily start over if you want to.) Or you can learn to do simple origami via online tutorials or books.

Look around your space and see if there’s anything you’re already buying that might be fun to create. Whip up some salad dressing or quick pickles, both of which feel chef-y but are hard to mess up.

A friend of mine made her own environmentally friendly cleaning products with just a few ingredients when she couldn’t find any she liked at the store.

To start, let go of any pressure you feel to be good at something, said Susie Brandt, an artist who is currently teaching a workshop at the Haystack Mountain School of Crafts in Deer Isle, Maine.

“As an artist, I make things to surprise myself,” she said. “I don’t know what I’m going to get.”

Many local libraries offer crafting workshops for adults. Or you can ask friends if they have any skills they’d like to teach, Brandt said.

“There are people everywhere who know something and they love to share it,” she said.

If you can, establish a place in your home for crafting, said Hinda Mandell, a professor of communication at Rochester Institute of Technology and the editor of “Crafting Dissent.” Get your materials together and assemble them wherever you want to create, she said.

“When they’re right there, then you can begin fiddling and tinkering with them,” she said. “Because the goal is really not so much to make something. The goal is to play, even if you have a break for just a few minutes.”

My mother paints, and she leaves some canvases and a watercolor set on a little table as a perpetual invitation to pick up a brush.

Occasionally a shell will fall off my mirror, thanks to sparse gluing. I told Dr. Norton that I had gathered them on a family trip to Sanibel Island, Fla., so they remind me of a happy time.

You can increase your feelings of pride or ownership, Dr. Norton said, by choosing materials that have meaning to you. “It’s very, very powerful, actually,” he added, “to look at objects that bring back specific memories.”

My shell mirror looks more raggedy every year. I’ll probably keep it forever.

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