What’s the key to happiness? Which people are the happiest? These aren’t questions that can be easily answered, and there are many different aspects to happiness, but we do know that fencing and other sports have a close connection to the creation of happiness.
There isn’t just one reason that fencing is connected to happiness, there are many reasons.
Camaraderie in fencing
Human beings are not meant to do things on our own. Fencing clubs are thriving, busy places that are full of life and full of people who work together.
How can fencing be a team sport and an individual sport? Though fencers are on the strip individually, they are not alone. Teams of fencers compete against one another, both on the international level at competitions like the Olympics and at lower level competitions. Each individual faces their opponents in matches on their own, but they are building points towards the team medal. Fencing teams build with each other, supporting one another. They’re in it together. It’s not unlike other individual Olympic sports such as gymnastics or swimming. People often think of gymnasts as being part of a close-knit group who are competing together, and that’s exactly how fencing is! These individual athletes are bonded. They care about each other.
It’s not just during team competition that fencers experience this kind of happy-making camaraderie. This is an individual sport that is part of a remarkable community. Fencers are buoyed by their coaches and their fellow fencers. Coaches and senior fencers are mentors, guides in this sport.
What makes all of that camaraderie even more impactful is that fencers fight one another. This makes it unlike just about any other sport! When you go toe to toe against someone you care about, swinging your sword at them, and then you shake their hands or hug them after, it creates a different kind of enriching bond. As a fencer, you’ll get on the strip against your coaches and your mentors in practice, as well as your friends in both practice and competition. You can’t really put your finger on it, but anyone who has fenced will attest to this important aspect of fencing. It brings you close to your opponents, who are rivals but also friends.
Isolation is a thief of happiness. The connection that fencing provides with others, well it makes us happy! Life is better when we share it. In this day and age when we are all more connected by technology and less by personal interaction, fencing provides a high degree of real world interaction.
Blood-pumping for happiness
Another major connection that fencing has to happiness is through exercise.
Exercise is a key to making life better. It’s as simple as that. This something that many of us know, but that we don’t always act on in our everyday lives. Which is understandable, because life gets busy and getting to the gym can feel like a chore.
Where fencing comes in is that with fencing, exercise becomes intertwined with camaraderie and passion. It’s not a chore anymore! You find something that you love to do, and that physical fitness part is so much easier to participate in. In fact, the same scientific research that shows how important exercise is also shows that socializing as part of sports makes the happiness effect even greater. Fencing is an individual sport, but it’s one that is closely tied to teammates and mentorship, something that we talked about earlier in this piece.
Getting started is the hardest part of fitness. Fencing makes getting started much easier.
Exercise is important for happiness because it teaches our brains to deal with stress too. When you start to exercise, you get that initial moment of physical and mental stress that you have to push through. You know that feeling – when your heart starts pumping and your muscles start straining and you want to stop. Pushing through that leads to a big dump of happy chemicals in your brain. This is what people mean when they say “exercise releases endorphins”. I know I’ve heard people say that a lot, but they don’t always realize what it means. It’s the feeling that you get when you push through the tough part initially and then you get into the zone. It’s why we warm up in fencing before a match, to get our bodies over the hump and to the endorphin zone.
When you consistently exercise, you’re putting your body through stress and then recovering. Over and over again. This is teaching your body to deal with stress, as well as releasing the stress and tension that’s built up from other places through everyday life.
If you’re fencing, then you’re doing this a few times a week. Which, funnily enough, is how often science tells us we need to exercise rigorously in order to get the mental health benefits.
Science tells us that exercise is more important for mental wellbeing than money. That’s a big deal, especially because it’s easy to focus on things like money when we’re chasing happiness.
Meaning away from screens
When you talk people who have lived for a long time, they never tell you that they wished they had worked more. They always say that they would have spent more time with their family or doing the things that they love to do.
What’s hard, especially today when there are so many competing things coming at us in the digital age, is to figure out how to make meaning. There are lots of distractions that are designed to eat up our time but that we know are not fulfilling. Thing about screen time, entertainment, and social media. Those things suck up our time, our energy, and studies show consistently that they suck up our happiness.
Cutting out these things isn’t the straight answer, you have to replace them with something. If you are spending a couple of nights a week at the fencing club, well that’s keeping you busy and off of your screens. It gives you something in the real world to take up that time. Fencing is a healthy way to fill the void and to avoid the trap of getting sucked into too much screen time. This is especially important for young people, who all of us parents know are tough to pull away from their magic screens. It’s not just kids though. Adults benefit from participating in real world activities too! We need to all be realistic about how much time we spend behind a screen and what ways we need to work to combat scrolling on our phones.
This doesn’t mean that you can’t have social media and find happiness. Screen time is a reality of modern life. You might have even found this post on social media. It’s all about balance. If you’re spending a good amount of time at your local fencing club honing your skills, well that’s a powerful way to find some balance.
The search for happiness
Happiness is a funny thing. We look for it in lots of places, but we never know where we’ll find it. A lot of people think that it comes from money or from success, but we all know intuitively that those aren’t the secrets. Money can help you get there of course, and success feels good. Happiness comes from somewhere else though.
I do speak for myself and for my family when I say that we have found our own little corner of happiness through fencing. It’s something that we do together, that we support each other in and that we cheer for. I’ve watched my own kids grow through this sport. I myself have grown through this sport. I take a huge amount of joy in the fencing journey that I see others take as well, people in this sport who find passion and drive.
Anecdotally and unscientifically, I have seen people discover a new zest for life through fencing. After they have built careers and hit that midlife point of being a little lost, fencing gave them direction and drive. I’ve watched teenagers, who can often struggle with happiness simply due to the flux of the teenage years, find meaning and happiness through a love of fencing.
What I know most about is the personal experience that I have had with this sport. It makes me happy, and that’s something that I want to share. I’m not alone in that, a fact which makes me even happier!