Watching the Australian cricket team celebrate their World Cup victory was surprisingly uncomfortable. It was not the regular discomfort I experience when seeing the juvenile behaviour that usually plagues a victorious Australian sports team: the taunting celebrations or the inability to form coherent sentences (both of which were on unabashed display in consummate gentleman Brad Haddin’s interview). My discomfort was in response to the nature of the celebrations themselves: these were eleven people who were experiencing veritable euphoria, and the realisation of decade-old dreams. Such elation seems foreign to many ordinary Australians in ordinary jobs—what actuary would polish off a particularly difficult financial equation and then go on laps of the office in triumph? It begs the question: are the elite athletes of the world privy to a more intense form of happiness, whilst we, the cardiovascularly untalented, live uninspiring, passionless lives?
On the surface, there are a few reasons why elite sporting victories might bring about a stronger sense of happiness than general life. Their physical exhaustion at the moment of victory would heighten the sense of achievement, as would the sense of public spectacle and nationalist pride. Moreover, success is the only thing they have to show for years of physical and mental exertion.
But can non-athletes achieve a similar level of happiness? Moments like a wedding or promotion would generate above-average feelings of happiness, but they arguably induce a more enduring sense of contentment rather than a visceral, in-the-moment euphoria. So perhaps the trade-off for not investing all your energy into one fleeting, potentially fruitless pursuit is having less intense emotional extremes—in other words (and at the risk of sounding like the Nutri-Grain slogan), the less you engage in an activity, the less there is to gain or lose, and the less euphoria or dysphoria there is to feel.
I admit that I could be misguided in assuming that people don’t feel this type of World Cup-winning euphoria on a regular basis. If any do, I am extremely jealous. But I can’t help but think it’s a blessing in disguise to pace your ambitions to last your whole life, rather than to chase dreams contingent upon physical prowess, then reach retirement with still-elusive goals, or disillusionment because nothing lives up to that former glory (see Shane Warne, the Madonna of Australian sport, for indisputable evidence of post-career ennui). That’s not to say that a sporting career is reckless or less worthy, but knowing there are longer-lasting forms of happiness than the euphoria of sport somewhat mitigates my discomfort in knowing that I have not felt, and likely will never feel, the same kind of happiness as did the Australian cricket team on the evening of 29th March, 2015. And it is definitely comforting to know that at least Shane ‘Lowest Common Denominator’ Warne will never cheapen the best moment in my life by asking me if I’m ‘thirsty’ on national television.