For the love of “lo sport” (or why sharing fun is good for you!)

Still popping antacids from the overload of fried dough, buffalo wings, chili dogs, and chips? I am referring, of course to America’s gatherings of friends, fun, and food for the love of lo sport—The Super Bowl. No doubt you engaged in some rowdy arguments during those close calls and then all-out celebration if the team you were rooting for won.  In the U.S. we use the term “football widow” to describe women who feel abandoned when married to avid sports fans, but in Italy, calcio is an obsession that crosses all boundaries of gender and generation. From bambini to nonni and everyone in-between—rarely will you find an Italian who can pass up a good game of soccer! Case in point: While in the U.S. the first thing one asks when making a new acquaintance is “What do you do?” in Italia, the more urgent question is  “di che squadra e’ (What team do you root for)?”

Soccer championships unite Italians into one big extended family that goes beyond small clusters of friends sitting before a big screen TV in someone’s home. During a championship match every bel paese restaurant, bar and café’ fills with newly formed famiglia revving up over Serie A teams that may claim one’s loyalty for an entire lifetime—like Roma, Juventus, Inter, Lazio, or Napoli. A normally bustling Italy can come to a complete standstill as moments of baited breath interlace with emotional bursts of every variety.  Following sports as a community is a phenomenon that goes beyond just which team makes a goal. In Italy the ritual of enjoying sports with others speaks to a phenomenon synonymous with life itself.  Cursing, expressions of love, suspenseful silence, colorful fireworks, screams of frustration, cheers of elation, hugs, kisses—all of these are behaviors that give testimony to the great celebration of living. While in Italy you might not find wings and fries, you will find that the good feeling of camaraderie, no matter whose team won or lost, lasts beyond the processions and banner-carrying crowds the day of the victory. Games will be talked about, argued about, cheered about for a long time afterwards. It is called sharing the fun.

As it turns out, sharing fun promotes well-being. One of the behavioral interventions to promote happiness in the field of psychology is called “pleasant events therapy”. Getting together just for the fun of watching a sports event, can actually have the power to put you in a lasting good mood. If sports isn’t your thing there are plenty of alternatives, and I urge you to make a list of them right now. Perhaps you’d like to create a group event around your favorite weekly TV show (one of mine is Boston Legal) or start an Italian conversation group at a nearby coffee house. Why not let the Italian love for lo sport serve as your model for a positive outlook in 2012?

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