Team Sports Boost Mental Health

By Neha John-Henderson, Janelle Caponigro | December 10, 2010 | 3 comments

Summaries of new research finding that team sports boost mental health, gratitude strengthens relationships, and positivity trumps negativity.

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* This Greater Good section, Research Digests, offers short summaries of recent studies on happiness, empathy, compassion, and more. Quick to read, easy to digest—we review the research so you don’t have to! Subscribe to the Research Digests RSS feed to receive future digests.


Social Sports are Good for Your Mental Health

"Does Sports Club Participation Contribute to Health-Related Quality of Life?"

Eime, R.M.; Harvey, J.T.; Brown, W.J.; Payne, W.R. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, Vol. 42 (5), May 2010, 1022-1028.

Physical activity and social connections are both known to be good for your physical health. This study examined their connection to mental health as well, focusing on the structured physical activity that takes place in Australian club sports—in this case, tennis and netball (a similar sport to basketball) clubs. The researchers found that women who participate in these club sports enjoy better mental health and life satisfaction than women who exercise at a gym or walk alone, even though there were no differences in physical health between the groups. The researchers argue that steps should be taken to encourage more people to get their exercise in club settings: Not only do they offer mental and physical health benefits, but previous research suggests people are more likely to maintain their physical activity when it’s combined with social support. —Neha John-Henderson

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Gratitude Strengthens Relationships

"Benefits of Expressing Gratitude: Expressing Gratitude to a Partner Changes One’s View of the Relationship"

Lambert, N.M., et. al. Psychological Science, April 2010, Vol. 21 (4), 574-580.

This study shows that expressing gratitude to a close friend or romantic partner strengthens your sense of connection to them. After researchers had participants express gratitude toward someone close to them, the participants felt closer to the other person and more responsible for his or her well being. In another experiment, the researchers had some participants express gratitude to a close friend and others perform one of three other activities: either think grateful thoughts about a close friend, have a positive interaction with a friend, or just think about their daily activities. At the end of three weeks, the participants who had expressed gratitude felt the most invested in their friendship. Woodrow Wilson once said, “Friendship is the only cement that will ever hold the world together.”  So go ahead, lay down some mortar, and tell those close to you how much you truly appreciate them. —Matthew Brim

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Positivity Trumps Negativity

"Social Threats, Happiness, and the Dynamics of Meaning in Life Judgments"

Hicks, J.A.; Schlegel, R.J.; King, L.A. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, Vol. 36 (10), October 2010, 1305-1317.

Research has found that when you experience positive emotions or think about positive things in your life, you are more likely to judge your life as meaningful. This study is the first to examine whether negative stimuli, such as feelings of loneliness, can also influence your view on whether your life has meaning. Results suggest that, much like positive stimuli, negative stimuli negatively impact perception of meaning in life. However, this is only true when other sources of information, such as positive emotions, are not available to draw upon. When more positive information is available, it trumps the effects of negative information. Findings from this study illustrate that even in the face of negative circumstances, positivity has a more powerful impact on our lives. —Janelle Caponigro

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