By Charlotte Kendall
Why do the Olympic and Paralympic Games make us so happy?
I’m an avid fan of the Olympics and Paralympics, but this year I’ve felt more obsessed than ever, tuning in on my lunch break and spending the evenings watching athletes around the world come together for one of the greatest sporting events known to wo-mxn.
While the Games always draw in the viewers at home, this year has certainly felt more poignant. Set to the backdrop of the global pandemic, this year’s Games, more than any other year, have offered hope, optimism and a semblance of normality that we’ve long craved for.
It’s since got me pondering about the link between the Games and happiness. After all, there must be one, right? Otherwise why would millions, perhaps billions, sit glued to the TV each day?
So I asked my colleagues why the Games made them happy. For one it was seeing the dedication, perseverance and hard work of the athletes finally pay off, for another it was simply inspiring to see so many people achieve their dreams right there in front of you. They talked of the highs and the lows, the exhilaration, the camaraderie.
There was a lot to think about as I tried to put two and two together.
But I came to realise that while the Games may make us happy in different ways and for different reasons, for me it’s all about the stand-out stories and the impact those stories have on us.
Like, the story of the two high jumpers, Qatar’s Mutaz Essa Barshim and Italy’s Gianmarco Tamberi who were neck and neck after a gruelling two hours, and eventually agreed to split the Gold between them – the first time it had been done since 1912!
Or, Tom Daley finally winning Gold in synchronised diving at his fourth Olympic Games.
…. And of course knitting the most superb Olympic jumper.
Or Sky Brown, the world’s youngest professional skateboarder at 13 year old skateboard, and winner of a Bronze medal at Tokyo – the first year skateboarding was introduced!
Or Simone Biles and her incredibly brave decision to withdraw from gymnastic events for the sake of her mental health, sending a powerful message to viewers around the world…followed by an epic comeback on the beam to win a Bronze medal. Epic!
Or, Massimo Stano, policeman by day and Gold Olympic medallist for race walking by night!
The list could go on and on…and on!
So what is it about these stories that create so much happiness?
Well, as with any great story, these Olympic stories give us heroes who we instantly connect and identify with. As we hear of their Olympic journey, the struggles, the injuries and failed attempts, we can’t help but empathise and imagine ourselves in their shoes. It makes sense then that when watching these individuals overcome the odds to make their way onto a podium, we feel how they feel: ecstatic, in awe and proud. By tapping into our emotions, our brains also release oxytocin and serotonin – quite literally boosting the happiness chemicals in our brain (hello happiness!).
I also love that these are real-life stories of triumph, success and courage. These are way better than a good romcom and those warm fuzzies, these are real stories of real people, and that certainly adds another dimension to the happiness and emotion that I feel. Watching Tom Daley, for example, a Gold Olympic champion, sitting in the bleachers knitting was such a picture of normality and relatability (not that I even knit, but still!), that you couldn’t help but cheer him on. Of course it helps that we’ve followed Tom’s Olympic journey since he was a teenager, reinforcing our emotional connection and cementing our desire to see him win.
"There is no greater power on this earth than story." - Libba Bray
What this all goes to show is that the power of storytelling is quite simply, incredible. Not only can it engage, inspire and influence, but it has a wonderful ability to entertain, thrill, and create a ripple effect of happiness for all those enraptured – and the key reason (I think!) why the Olympic and Paralympic Games is able to create so much happiness, not just for the athletes, but for all of us watching at home.
The Olympic Games has truly delivered this year when it comes to storytelling-induced happiness, so roll on the Paralympics and more epic stories of incredible humans doing incredible things, I say. What new stories will we discover? What emotional journeys will we embark on? Fortunately, there’s only four more days until we find out!
Interested to discover more about the power of storytelling and how to use it in your role?
As part of our F.I.T. series, we offer a F.I.T. to story tell magazine and workshop, focused on helping learners to harness the power of storytelling and unleash their full potential. Get in touch to find out more at email@example.com
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