The WellSpan Spotlight

Mental health and wellbeing

Why this surgeon keeps bees, and why you should get a hobby, too

Dr. Justin Snyder, beekeeper

Dr. Justin Snyder tends to his bee hives.

At WellSpan Good Samaritan Hospital, Dr. Justin Snyder is a surgeon, performing colorectal, lung, robotic and other types of complex operations.

At his family’s Hidden Hollow Farm in Berks County, he is a homesteader, raising bees, crafting cutting boards from fallen trees, building fences, coaxing fruit from a small orchard, and cultivating mushrooms.

Dr. Snyder loves a good hobby.

He makes time for his varied interests, juggling his on-call schedule and his family responsibilities as a husband and a dad of three daughters. It’s important to his mental health.

“Whenever I get that one to two hours a week to do something where I can put my concentration in one area, it helps calm me and bring me back to nature. To be able to work with your hands in a different way, for me, it’s grounding,” he says, adding with a laugh, “My family knows when it’s time for me to go to the garage. They say, ‘Get out. We’ll see you in a half an hour.’ ”

“For me, it’s just been very fun,” he says. “It keeps me sane. It keeps me relaxed.”

Elenore Sowal, a WellSpan Philhaven clinical operations administrator, says hobbies have a variety of mental health benefits, which is backed up by numerous studies. In a 2023 study published in the journal Nature Medicine, people with hobbies reported better health, more happiness, fewer symptoms of depression, and higher life satisfaction. A New Zealand study found that engaging in creative activities also may have long lasting positive effects, showing participants felt a higher positive mood and a sense of “flourishing” after they engaged in a creative activity.

Sowal personally has experienced the enrichment of hobbies, which, for her, include photography and travel.


Elenore Sowal, at the equator in Kenya.

“Traveling has helped me to maintain a perspective I would not have had the chance to develop otherwise,” she notes. “Seeing how large the world is and viscerally experiencing how many people are in it helps me not get so caught up in the stuff that might get stuck in my head.”

Here are just some of the benefits of having a hobby:

  • Hobbies can build great relationships. Joining a club or a sports league is a great way to build and nurture friendships and bonds. Dr. Snyder loves when his daughters share his interests – helping him in the hives, walking in the woods with him.
  • Hobbies help you build new skills. Snyder has learned to catch wild bee swarms. He has learned to mill his own lumber for his cutting and charcuterie boards.
  • Hobbies teach you perseverance. If you are developing a new hobby, you need to learn how to do something that may be brand new to you and build resilience if things don’t go as planned. Dr. Snyder learned this when he spent hours building a fence around his orchard only to have it knocked down by a bad storm, and also discovered that animals ate most of the fruit his family worked hard to grow.