Why NCAA Basketball is Good for You!

By Dr. Ryan Niemiec

Buzzer beaters. Cinderellas. Bracket buster upsets. This can only mean one thing. It’s March Madness!

Aside from being happy that your team is in the NCAA tournament and even happier when your team wins its first game, why should you care? Can tuning into college basketball games be good for your health?

Yes, it just might be. Let’s take a closer look.

Positive psychology founder, Martin Seligman, recently described the core areas of human well-being with the acronym PERMA (Positive emotions, Engagement, positive Relationships, Meaning, and Achievement). These 5 areas are the pathways to a full life – a life of flourishing. Maybe the NCAA tournament can help you tap these areas?

  • Positive emotions: The NCAA tournament is extraordinarily popular, in part, because it offers us a feast of emotional experiences. If you have a team or several teams you root for, there will be emotions of anxiety, frustration, and sadness brewing within you. But, don’t forget that positive emotions are at your fingertips as well – feelings of joy, pride, hope, interest, awe, and inspiration.

  • Engagement: When a game is close and an underdog team is bringing up the ball for a final shot to win the game, we are glued to the screen. Even the person with minimal basketball knowledge is engaged in a trance-like state, excited to see an upset. This kind of engagement with the task at hand is important for our overall happiness at work and in our personal life and helps us reach our goals and achieve more. College basketball can remind us of this by offering us experiences of engagement.

  • Positive relationships: Researcher Daniel Wann has found that you are better off identifying with a particular team than not identifying with one. Those who connect with a team – whether it be Duke, Kentucky, Xavier, Davidson, or Gonzaga – are more likely to have greater mental and social well-being and feel less isolated. This can partly be explained because watching games often involves connecting with others in groups, meeting new people, and calling up friends. The experience of belongingness and support rises, like “we are all in this together.” So, pick a team to root for, even if it isn’t your alma mater. Maybe you like the coach or the team has a good story, it doesn’t matter why, just by choosing a team to root for you’ll find yourself more connected to others.

  • Meaning: Meaning is a strong part of the experience of many college basketball fans, especially those who exclaim: “That’s my team” and “We played well. We won today!” (even though that person never stepped onto the basketball court). This is because fans feel that they are part of something larger than oneself. This creates meaning. When “my” team, Michigan State, plays hard and loses or wins I feel a strong sense of meaning. I then feel my nostalgic connection to the university, and feel appreciative to the lead person responsible (head coach Tom Izzo), and to the players who put forth their character strengths of zest, perseverance, and love for the game. Yes, this meaning quality of PERMA has been so strong for me that I’ve even become tearful after some victories.

  • Achievement: Winning is one type of achievement. And, for the fan, it can be a vicarious one in which the fan “lives through” the team’s trials and tribulations. When we watch our favorite team win a difficult game, it almost feels as if we, too, have gone through various struggles and won. When I see Michigan State win and accomplish its goals, in some way, I feel like a part of me has also accomplished something. When they lose, I have also lost. When they struggle and suffer, I also suffer. Indeed, good basketball coaches will speak to this, exclaiming that a victory for their team is also a “victory” for the university, for the students, and for the alumni.

Watching college basketball is not all good and positive, but there is plenty that can help you find greater well-being. So, in addition to taking your daily Vitamin C, flip on your TV or stream a game or two on your computer. You just might feel happier. Go Spartans!

What teams will you be rooting for? How might March Madness improve your life?