What sports fans know about friendship

How do we build a life?is a weekly column by Arthur Brooks, addressing questions of meaning and happiness. Click here to listen to his podcast series on all things happiness, How do we build a happy life?.


HAlthough Vin I’ve never lived in Chicago, and I have such a nice place with the cubs. My father grew up in Windy City and loved the team his whole life. And I loved my father. Therefore, by transitive property, I also liked the cubs. Two decades after my father passed away, I’m still a fan. Every time I watch the Cubs on TV, I think of him and have a conversation with him in my head about the game.

Baseball might strike you as something too trivial for father and son to relate to. Perhaps we could have bonded more through our common calling (I am an academic, as he was – and so was his father), or through our feelings for our kin. Compared to family and professional interests, a ball game may, frankly, seem rather useless.

But that is exactly what makes them ideal for forming relationships. In the world of transactions, our relationships with others tend to become part of a network of beneficial alliances. But alliances like this make relationships the least satisfying. If you find that the closest bonds of friendship and family leave you feeling empty, the solution is not to make your relationships more practical. The goal is to organize them more around things that aren’t useful at all – like baseball.


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When it comes Understanding our relationships with others, for my money, the best source is Aristotle. He wrote extensively on many types of philiaOr the mutual attraction and attachment that form the basis of every human relationship. philia On the basis of transaction is the least virtuous type, according to Aristotle. For example, I’m friendly with my dentist, and she’s friendly with me, which makes it less of a hassle for me to give her hundreds of dollars to drill my teeth. At the other end of the spectrum philia It is simply built on the deep satisfaction that a relationship brings to each person in it, and the desire for the other to be happy. Aristotle wrote that they “wish the other equally well.”

This is higher philia It often involves a shared love of a third thing, such as religious belief or a search for moral perfection. I have a close friendship, for example, in which my friend and I frequently discuss our efforts to improve ourselves as people. But as research has shown in the more than 2,400 years since Aristotle described it philiaMutual love does not have to be something deep in order to foster a deep friendship. Just like above philia Not “useful” in the worldly sense, the love he sustains can be for something that may seem trivial. The point is that it brings friends together in mutual satisfaction, without being transactions.

And that brings me back to the Cubs, the team that brought me together with my father, and who still brings me happy memories of the love between us long after he passed away. We had nothing to gain as we watched them play, except for the satisfaction of enjoying games together as father and son, a satisfaction far greater than any of us could have seen without the other. The Cubs were the “place” where we met to enjoy our bond.

Lots of sports fans have similar experiences. In their next book, Fans have more friendsSportswriters Ben Valenta and David Sicorjak have found that the biggest enthusiasts have the best social lives. The authors measured the intensity of one’s love for the sport – they call it “fandom base” – by the passion of self-ranked people as well as the time they spent watching and participating; Then they compared this to the quality of people’s friendships and family life. Relationships are intertwined but striking. For example, 42 percent of the most engaged sports fans were “very satisfied” with their family life, compared to less than a quarter of non-fans. Sixty-one percent of fans, but only 37 percent of non-fans, said they “felt close to people”.

These findings are consistent with previous research on sports fans. Scientists have found that both fandom and fan loyalty are positively associated with a sense of belonging and a sense of meaning. One study last year showed that active sports participation actually the reasons More life satisfaction. And in a 2009 study of 900 people who played sports in the Netherlands, a third of them said that they “established their social networks, self-esteem and trust in others through sports primarily.” Sports is just one example. Research shows that people relate in meaningful ways to all kinds of impractical things, from classic cars to birdhouses to cheesy TV.

meand your relationships With friends and family leaving you a little cold, you may be overly interested in your activities. Perhaps the solution is to develop a taste for baseball, or perhaps alternatively for opera or chess or Danger. No matter what your friendship-enhancing hobby is, be sure to follow two rules.

1) Make it substantive, not useful.

Remember that Aristotle is perfect philia It requires you to focus on the inherent satisfaction you get from someone’s company, not mundane gains like money or career advancement. Your hobby should mostly serve this purpose of satisfaction. Perhaps you can share the enjoyment of a career pursuit with a friend, but be careful – goals can change quickly and imperceptibly. What was basically an excuse to spend time with a loved one and secondly a professional project can become more business than fun. An unprofitable pursuit is a safer bet.

2) The point is philiaAnd not emotion.

If I want to be honest with you, I’m not really enthusiastic about any amusement, and I never have been. I envy people who seem to be honest love College football, or singing, or singing in the community choir, because I’m not one of them. This does not stop me from achieving perfection philia, However. You can still form a bond with someone you value by indulging in something you like but don’t like. for better cultivation philiaDon’t pretend to enjoy something you really hate. But consider what your loved one enjoys, and if those interests appeal to you at all, you can adopt them by choice.

WWhen my father diedI stopped watching baseball for a while. I had young children, I was busy building my career, and I didn’t have time. But really, the reason I’m not a fan anymore is because if I watched a game, I’d want to talk about it with just one person, and he’s gone. After a few years, I realized that this was a mistake: the cubs could bring my father back.

In February, I gave a talk about workplace happiness for Cubs’ front office staff at Wrigley Field. Then, I imagined what my father would say – and how it would have nothing to do with the work I did. Did they say anything about their promotion? He would have asked instead. “Trading Yo Darvish and letting John Lester escape in free agency last year was brutal. But a lot of young arms this year can be pretty cool!”

In this way, we were together again.

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