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Turns out your gran was right, idle hands ARE the devil’s playthings


Being a dedicated gentleman of leisure in the vein of Oscar Wilde or that fat bloke from Dune, I’ve always scoffed at the idea of a spiritual reward for hard work. Unfortunately those meddlesome people who insist that cider and cigarettes “aren’t food” and binge watching Netflix isn’t good for me might just have science on their side. 

It turns out that any type of work that forces us to use our brains and our hands changes the neurochemistry of our brain, usually for the better. The opposable thumb is one of mankind’s greatest advantages in the giant, world-wide cage-match that is natural selection, and according to Kelly Lambert, a neuroscientist at the University of Richmond, our brain has evolved to reward us for using them.  

I can’t speak to the accuracy of the science – I write about people pulling animals out of hats for a living – but I can say the theory fits with my life experience. I use low key manual labor to distract myself from anxiety all the time. Pro tip: You will never find that cleaner dishes than in a writer’s house near a deadline. That nearly every culture in the world has its own take on the stress ball is a bit of a giveaway as well. Juggling and knitting have long been known to have beneficial effects on your mood. 

It also fits with the well-established link between chronic unemployment and depression, a link that Lambert observed during her experiments on rats. 

Rats that were made to dig for their food showed far more signs of healthy minds than rats who were given a free-ride. These “trust fund rats” had much higher stress levels than their working class peers. 

So long story short, all those card tricks you’re working on are good for you, that riffle shuffle you keep screwing up is therapy, and I’m saving all those dirty dishes for my next deadline.