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Sport and the pursuit of happiness


Sport and the pursuit of happiness

The international community is increasingly recognising that ‘progress’ should not be measured solely in financial terms. Sport can play a role in improving a society's overall sense of well-being.

Measuring progress
Recently, the idea that progress shouldn’t just be about boosting the economy has gained traction, with greater emphasis on people’s happiness. In 2011, all 193 UN member states adopted a resolution calling for countries to “pursue the elaboration of additional measures that better capture the importance of the pursuit of happiness and well-being in development with a view to guiding their public policies”.

In April 2012, Bhutan, which uses “gross happiness product” rather than gross domestic product (GDP) as an indicator of progress, convened the UN’s first conference on happiness and well-being. This momentum has continued and, on 20 March 2013, the first International Happiness Day was celebrated, “to promote happiness as a universal goal and aspiration in the lives of human beings around the world”.

Sport and mental health
The role of sports in this discussion is clear. Not only are the long-term health benefits of physical activity likely to contribute to increased psychological well-being but, in the short-term, it is well known that exercise causes a secretion of endorphins, creating a ‘natural high’ and helping combat stress.

Exercise is an option for helping to treat or prevent depression and for this purpose it is prescribed by doctors in many countries. Sports programmes are frequently used internationally as a rehabilitative tool, providing psychosocial support for people affected by trauma. Sport can promote self-confidence and the development of various skills necessary for success in employment, relationships and other areas of life that impact a person’s overall well-being.

Sport and society
It isn’t just players and athletes that can find happiness through sport. Coaches, match officials, ground staff and everyone else involved can find purpose in sport and it’s clear that watching sport, in person or on television, brings a lot of enjoyment to people around the world.

Sport can also play a role in increasing the happiness of society as a whole. Well run programmes can, for example, have an impact on local crime rates, as a recent Laureus Sport for Good Foundation publication reported. Others may assist community cohesion by promoting the integration of migrants, combating discrimination or promoting communication between different groups in a post-conflict environment.

A combination of factors
It’s important to be realistic, though, and recognise that, in some situations and contexts, sport can cause negative emotions. The anger sometimes displayed by fans, players and coaches in professional sport is just one example.

Sport alone will never guarantee a society’s happiness and well-being but, when well-structured and combined with a number of other factors, it can be an important component. Increasing the number of opportunities for people to get involved in sport at all levels should be a priority for governments and communities.


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Paul Hunt


Tuesday, March 26, 2013 - 23:00