A Hobby and a Habit

Alfred North Whitehead

If you detect a tongue-in-cheek tone to the title of this blog, you are perceptive. Hobbies and habits need not conflict. It’s not an either-or matter. Hobbyists cultivate many habits related to their passion.

And there’s nothing wrong with that. Habits are not bad in themselves. Good habits are good, and bad habits are bad. As philosopher Gilbert Ryle put it, Some tautologies need repeating.

Forming habits — creating routines — is how we economize on time and effort, both of which are scarce since we are mortal.

The philosopher and mathematician Alfred North Whitehead, a collaborator with renown pipe smoker and philosopher Bertrand Russell, said

It is a profoundly erroneous truism that we should cultivate the habit of thinking of what we are doing. The precise opposite is the case. Civilization advances by extending the number of important operations which we can perform without thinking about them.

We pipe smokers cultivate many habits, and I’m not just talking about nicotine. (I prefer the old-fashioned word habit to the pernicious medicalized term addiction.) We have habits about packing our pipes, tamping, lighting, cleaning, rotating, perhaps dedicating, and other aspects of pipe smoking. If we had to give each of the various details our close attention each time, we’d have less time and energy to attend to new things. What a loss that would be!

So glory in the hobby! Glory in the habit!

What We Bring to the Table


We’ve all experienced this: one day a particular pipe or tobacco is pure heaven, the next day, not so much. What’s going on? I’m convinced that pipe-smoking, like so much else, is a combination of objective and subjective factors. The pipe and tobacco may be the same day to day (although not necessarily — moisture can fluctuate), but we individually are not. A pipe-smoking experience can be shaped not only by the external factors but by internal ones as well, such as our mood; what kind of day we just had; how long ago we’ve eaten; what we ate; how much or little rest we got; how the weather makes us feel; what are we expecting for tomorrow; and on and on.

We bring a lot to the table each time, so don’t be discouraged by a less-than-perfect smoke. And don’t think about trashing that tobacco or pipe. Relax. There’s always next time.

More from Morley

Christopher Morley

I found this quotation in Rick Newcombe’s In Search of Pipe Dreams, a book I highly recommend. The words were written in 1916 by pipe-smoking enthusiast Christopher Morley, author of The Haunted Bookshop, for which the Cornell & Diehl tobacco is named. (C&D’s Morley’s Best is named after the author himself. I like both blends.)

I define life as a process of the Will-to-Smoke; recurring periods of consciousness in which the enjoyability of smoking is manifest, interrupted by intervals of recuperation.