Written by: Alistair Dunsmuir, November 20, 2020 (The Golf Business)
A neuroscientist has written a paper that concludes that ‘golf fulfills the perfect prescription for wellbeing and happiness’.
Chartered scientist Stephen Smith, the chief neuroscientist at Sport Psychology Ltd, has, with other scientists, reviewed a 10-step ‘model for happiness – particularly in a pandemic’, and stated that playing golf fulfills all of the steps.
The model was created by Professor Paul Dolan, the head of behavioural science at the London School of Economics, and the 10 steps were: Go outside; Keep moving; Keep talking and listening; Ask for help – don’t become lonely; Help others; Accept that it is hard; Value what you have; Do sweat the small stuff; Don’t let go of purpose; and Remember we are all different.
Smith has gone through each step and written about its application to golf.
‘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,’ he wrote.
‘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.
‘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.
‘Ask for help – don’t become lonely: Linked to the point 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.
‘Help others – helping others is another inbuilt 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 gives 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.
‘Accept that it is hard – life is hard, living through a pandemic is harder still. If we as a society are going to overcome the current challenge we need to start to build higher levels of inner resilience into society. The first stage to resilience is to take ourselves out of denial and into a state of acceptance and admit things are not expected to be easy – yet few of us do that naturally. Any exercise, pastime or training that can help to develop this as a core strength will have benefits to society far beyond the scope of that activity. Golf is a game that can never be mastered and teaches all players that we must accept the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. This sport teaches people lessons about dealing with challenges that can last a lifetime.
‘Value what you have – to survive a pandemic you must value what you have not what others may have. Golf teaches us that there will be others who can hit it longer than us, straighter than us and will always be more talented than us. But we can still go out and enjoy our own game and get immense pleasure and value out of the childlike joy of hitting a ball with a stick. Golf takes you into its own world as you leave behind the stresses of today – just for a wee while but that’s all we need to recharge our optimism banks. It only takes one good shot out of the many a player hits to give a sense of accomplishment and stoke the fires of our optimism that ‘next time all my shots can be like that one’.
‘Do sweat the small stuff – to succeed in a pandemic you need to focus on the details and live completely in the here and now. Golf teaches players to focus on the fundamentals: grip, stance, alignment. It demands that you take it one shot at a time – you cannot stress about what you did on a previous hole that’s long gone. You cannot worry about what you might do on holes that you have not yet reached – the future’s not ours to see. You can only deal with the shot you are faced with in the here and now and learn to accept the outcome – whatever it may be. Golf teaches players to sweat the small stuff.
‘Don’t let go of purpose – humans need a purpose to add meaning to their endeavours and help them face up to the challenges that life throws at them. Research has shown that people who lose purpose (long term unemployed for example) can quickly become lost to society and themselves. The challenge to master this complex game never diminishes – as soon as a player thinks they may have mastered one aspect (say putting) another area (say driving from the tee) will collapse in their game requiring focus and attention. Having spent hours fixing the problem in their driving that payer will then find that their putting skills have gone for a burton. Even if every aspect of their play is firing on all cylinders the need to lower their handicap will always add a daily purpose to the play of any golfer. Golf can add immense purpose to life and that’s why it has been shown to be so important to the physical and mental recovery of so many of our injured war veterans.
‘Remember we are all different – most sports do not allow players of vastly differing abilities to play together on a level playing field. Your local pub football side could not go out and give Liverpool’s first team a run for their money. This game, uniquely, gives a handicap that enables everyone to have an equal chance to play and compete and enjoy the sport. Anyone can play anyone else and has a real chance to give them a close match whatever the real difference in talent between them.’
“Golf is the most inclusive sport on the planet,” he concluded. “The need to recognise diversity of talent is built into its very fabric.”