Bleachers to Bliss: The Science of Sports Fandom and Happiness

From the bleachers to bliss: the link between sports fandom and happiness

Grab your foam finger and head to a stadium because watching live sport might just be the most fun way to boost your mental wellbeing.

PICTURE THIS: you’re sitting in a sold-out stadium full of crazy, jubilant fans as your team clinches a win in the dying seconds of an important game. You’re screaming your lungs out, united in collective joy with thousands of total strangers, all of you giddy on a potent cocktail of adrenaline and euphoria.

If that sounds like a fun way to spend a Friday or Saturday night, it could also be healthy one, with a recent study showing attending live sports events is like a happiness injection, boosting your mood and muting feelings of loneliness and isolation. 

Researchers at Anglia Ruskin University in the UK surveyed over 7,000 adults between 16 and 85 finding that attending live sporting events can increase overall happiness and give a greater sense of purpose while reducing feelings of isolation. Happiness, of course, is a known health booster, with previous research showing higher happiness scores can lead to better physical health, successful ageing, and even lower mortality rates. 

The research is good news for anyone who attended the recent Women’s World Cup in person. Every Australian, regardless of their previous interest in the round-ball game was riding the many highs and lows throughout the ‘Tillies’ campaign. Stadiums were packed to the brim, with tickets almost impossible to secure. Sure, you could’ve watched the games at a sports bar or a mate’s place, but ask anyone who went: nothing compared to being at the game. And now science is revealing why that is.

“We do know that watching live sport of all types provides many opportunities for social interaction, and this helps to forge group identity and belonging, which in turn mitigates loneliness and boosts levels of wellbeing,” says study author Dr Helen Keyes.

The recent AFL season boasted unbelievable crowd numbers, setting a new record for gross attendance with more than 8.1 million spectators in 2023–the first time the 8-million mark has been breached. In Rugby League, State of Origin is the pinnacle of the game, with sold-out crowds of up to 80,000 for each of the three games. Crowds this year were heaving with emotion, and at the small point in time from kick off to the final siren, crowds of complete strangers were united, either in ecstasy or agony, depending on your allegiance. Without knowing it, fans were releasing waves of positive endorphins simply by being part of the action. 

So, while playing sports is often touted for its health benefits, this study shows that watching live sport can also do wonders for your wellbeing and help you feel more connected to the world.

 

Instagram | @AFL

 

 

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