The Happiness IssueAugust 13, 2015

Five Tips For Happier Golf

 Franco Carabelli, editor-in-chief of Switzerland's Golf&Country magazine describes his home country as a "heaven."
Franco Carabelli, editor-in-chief of Switzerland's Golf&Country magazine describes his home country as a "heaven."

What makes you happy? A long drive? A good score? A lucky bounce? When two wrongs make a right—an overclubbed underhit shot that winds up on the green, or a mis-read, mis-hit putt that goes in anyway? Or is your happiness less about your own game and more to do with the context—playing with people you like, on a terrific course, on a beautiful day?

Or maybe your happiness depends on things outside golf—the size of your bank balance, your physical beauty, your number of Facebook friends (in which case, you will never feel as if you have enough).

True happiness runs much deeper. It arises perhaps from becoming who you are. Good relationships. Having a sense of purpose and meaning. Some kind of spiritual practice and belief. A feeling of connection and love—with yourself, with others, and with something larger.

Whatever happiness is for you, here are 5 tips to pump it up.

Move to Switzerland.

The Gallup organization surveyed people across 158 countries about their happiness. In the latest edition of the resulting annual World Happiness Report, the 10 happiest countries in the world are deemed to be:

  1. Switzerland
  2. Iceland
  3. Denmark
  4. Norway
  5. Canada
  6. Finland
  7. Netherlands
  8. Sweden
  9. New Zealand
  10. Australia

The U.S. is 15th on the list; the U.K. 21st. On the bottom of the pile are Syria, Burundi and Togo.

The 10 happiest nations are generally egalitarian—inequality breeds discontent. They are also prosperous, well run and awash in “social capital.” Writes sustainable development advocate Jeffrey D. Sachs in the World Happiness Report: “When social capital is high, individuals are more prepared to incur such individual costs for the greater good; and when most people in society behave in that manner, society as a whole benefits in higher economic productivity, stronger social insurance, greater societal resilience to natural hazards, and greater mutual care.”

These are places that always do well in the in the famous “lost wallet” experiments in which full wallets are left lying around to see how many get pocketed. Here, if you accidentally leave your favourite wedge beside the putting green at dawn, it will likely still be there at dusk—unless someone handed it in.

The happiest nation, Switzerland, meanwhile, is the closest state in the world to a direct democracy. There are referendums on town, city, district and national level. The Swiss really have a say in how their country is run. They are invested in their government, and vice versa.

“It's a great privilege to live here,” says Franco Carabelli, editor-in-chief of Golf&Country magazine. “A democratic system, no wars, no deaths, no natural disasters—what an incredible case of luck to be born in such a heaven.”

Carabelli also cites Switzerland’s 98 golf courses as beacons of happiness “where you feel welcome—regardless of your social status and your handicap. The best thing about golf in Switzerland is its variety: One day you can play in the south, in a Mediterranean surrounding, and the next day you can play on a pre-alpine course with splendid views of the Matterhorn.”

If you find yourself feeling unhappy while playing Crans-sur-Sierre, you really need professional help. Carabelli rates his own happiness at 9.9 out of 10—“because you must always have goals in life...”

Change your attitude.

Happiness is a choice. When your lay-up ends up in very thing you were trying to lay up short of, smile. Laugh. Raise your game by all means, but lower your expectations, too—most golfers think they can pull off shots that their jumble-sale swings will never be capable of; a recipe for disappointment and unhappiness. Act happy. Show up at an overpriced goat track on a rainy day and say: “Hey, this place is great.” Count your blessings. As Victor Frankl wrote in the supreme book on his experiences in the Holocaust, Man’s Search for Meaning: "Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances."

Be around happy people.

For better and for worse, emotions are contagious, and you reap what you sow. Seek out people who make you feel good. Be kind and generous to your playing partners. Concede that important putt. Pay for the beers at the halfway house. Go on, let him have a mulligan. Put good energy into the world and you shall receive.

Grow old.

Countless studies show that in general, happiness follows a U-bend across the adult life span, regardless of factors like wealth, employment status, presence or absence of children and so on. Perhaps you set out on your grown-up journey in reasonably good cheer, full of hopes and dreams. But sooner or later all that potential and possibility gets mugged by reality. And one day you find yourself trapped in an unsatisfying job, marriage or town, struggling to pay the bills, stressed, sandwiched between looking after your kids and looking after your parents. You are miserable. You are at the bottom of the U-bend. “And you may ask yourself,” as the Talking Heads song goes, “how did I get here?” One study of happiness data in 72 countries reported that the global average bottom of the U-bend is 46 years old.

But then, after a midlife crisis or two, things get better. Your physiological decline is outweighed by your psychological advance. The death of ambition is outweighed by the birth of acceptance. Instead of trying to live up to other people’s standards or expectations, you fully accept who you are. Your delusions of grandeur fade away and you learn to love the game. Your game.

Stop trying to be happy all the time.

It’ll only make you unhappy. As Oliver Burkeman writes in The Antidote: Happiness For People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking: “In order to be truly happy, it turns out, we might actually need to be willing to experience more negative emotions—or, at the very least, to stop running quite so hard from them.”

And anyway, is that what you really want, to be nothing more than a big yellow smiley face? There’s so much more to life than being only h