Scientists have confirmed that the 10 steps to happiness can be found in golf.

Golf is a huge source of happiness for all of us, even though it might be a bit frustrating at times.

And now we've discovered the scientific reasons behind why that is.

Professor Paul Dolan – the head of behavioural science at the London School of Economics- is one of the UK’s leading experts on wellbeing.

 Below is a copy of a paper provided by Stephen Smith, Chief Neuroscientist for Sport Psychology Ltd, has taken Dolan's 10 steps for happiness and applied them to golf, explaining how the game completely fulfils each step to deliver the perfect recipe for happiness and wellbeing.  

With golf courses in England currently closed at a time when we arguably need fresh air and exercise more than ever, it certainly makes interesting reading.

Step one - 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. 

Step two - 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.  

Step three - Keep talking and listening

Few sports enable participants to engage with others as much as golf. There is a lot of walking between shots which gives us the time to share our thoughts and listen to those we are out with. Humans are primates and primates are incredibly social – we are driven to engage with other people. 

Step four - Reach out - don't stay 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.

Step five - 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.

Step six - 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 challenge that can last a lifetime.

Step seven - 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 hist to give a sense of accomplishment and stoke the fires of our optimism that “Next time all my shots can be like that one”. 

Step eight - 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 its long gone. You cannot worry about what you might do on holes that you have not yet reached- the future is 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.

Step nine - 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. 

Step ten - 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. But golf, 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.  

About SPL

Sport Psychology Limited was formed as the ASPIRE partnership in 1990 and became SPL in 2000. Its psychologists are founders of the Sport Psychology Professional Body in the UK and have worked with many elite athletes/teams including one golf Major winner. For the last few years SPL has specialised in the psychology of design of sports equipment and sports venues and has worked with leading golf manufacturers and venues. 

About Stephen Smith 

AFBPsS, C.Psychol, C.Sci, BSc (Hons), University of St Andrews 

Stephen was walking golf courses at home in Scotland with his father from the age of six and joined his local club as a junior member aged 14. He is one of only four psychologists in the UK who are fully qualified as BOTH a sport psychologist and a business psychologist and is an expert in the psychology of diversity. 

Find out more about SPL HERE.