- Alistair Tait
How golf makes us happy – Part 1
Most of us probably didn’t react the way a friend did yesterday with the news that many of us could return to golf after lockdown number 2. Said friend simply sent an email with a picture of a golfer jumping for joy.
Social media was certainly jumping for joy with lovers of this stick and ball game celebrating a return to the fairways after another month off. I’m certainly looking forward to it. The first lockdown was easier than this one.
The need to get back to something resembling normalcy is important for all of us. It’s not how we score that really counts, what really matters is the playing of the game. They say it is better to travel than to arrive. That adage seems to fit golf like a new head cover slipping over a driver head. Don’t take my word for it, though. Stephen Smith believes “Golf fulfils the perfect prescription for happiness.” He should know. Smith is chief neuroscientist for Sport Psychology Ltd.
Smith, whose degrees include AFBPsS, Chartered Psychologist, Chartered Scientist, BSc (Hons) St. Andrews, produced a short, green paper pre-lockdown number 2 arguing golf should remain open because it does provide happiness. He reviewed his 10 steps for happiness, explaining how "golf fulfils each step to deliver the perfect recipe for happiness and wellbeing." They make perfect sense for those of us who love this royal and ancient pastime.
In order not to give you too much to read in one sitting, I’ve broken his 10 reasons into two parts. Here are his first five. I’ll publish the other five tomorrow.
1. Go outside
“Humans were not designed for living in buildings. Spending time out in the natural environment lifts our spirits. Golf is a game that takes many a suburban or city dweller out of the city and into the fresh air that they might not, otherwise, seek without their passion for this game.”
2. Keep Moving
“Exercise has countless benefits, psychological and physical. For many people, hard cardiovascular options are beyond them, so a sport that demands use of many joints and gives a moderately paced workout in fresh air over a number of hours is the perfect solution.”
3. Keep Talking and Listening
"Few sports enable participants to engage with others as much as this game. There is a lot of walking between shots, which gives us the time to share and listen with those we are out with. Humans are primates and primates are incredibly social – we are driven to engage with other people."
4. Ask for Help – Don’t Become Lonely
"Linked to the point above is the fact that loneliness is one of the greatest silent killers in the UK and has always been linked to higher levels of morbidity. Such a social sport enables players to create strong connections making it easier to ask for help – or offer it."
5. Help Others
"Helping others is another in-built aspect of primate behaviour – it’s in our genetic programming. Primates live in troops and the troop can only function if everyone helps and cooperates. Knowing that you have done a small deed that day that has been completely altruistic and has helped another member of society is incredibly powerful for feelings of self-worth and wellbeing. Golf give players a chance to reach out and deliver this need. It could be by listening to a personal issue and offering advice or simply by helping to search for another player’s lost ball. The benefit of helping others cannot be underestimated.”
It's difficult to argue with anything Smith says here. The first two are especially key to my wellbeing and mental health. Getting outdoors and exercising is a key part of my life. Walking and carrying a bag of clubs two or three times a weeks helps fulfil that need. I make sure I have a strenuous walk every day even when I don’t play golf. I have my faithful friend Izzy to thank for that. Indeed, Izzy and I are off for a 5-6 mile walk as soon as this blog is posted.
If I didn’t walk every day I’d probably be several pounds heavier and a lot more morose. I like to think Izzy’s still going strong at age 12 because we’ve both put in the miles every day, on and off the golf course.
#JustSaying: “Often the mountain gives itself most completely when I have no destination, when I reach nowhere in particular, but have gone out merely to be with the mountain as one visits a friend with no intention but to be with him.” Nan Shepherd, The Living Mountain