The World Needs More Fist Bumps

by | Jun 3, 2016 | Pop Culture, Sports

When trying to make the world a better place, we often think about volunteering, donating to charity, taking care of the environment, or advocating for political change. And we need all those activities.

Perhaps, however, we need to add another item to our to-do list: giving more fist bumps.

That, at least, is one piece of advice in a recent Time article that highlights simple ways to improve one’s relationships, work, happiness, and motivation.

Any piece of clickbait promising to make your life better in a few simple steps should be taken with a massive grain of salt, but the tips are backed up by serious research. Plus, what do you have to lose? Unhappiness?


In thinking about my work with brother Jesuits on The Jesuit Post, I was particularly intrigued by the research on how groups can work together more effectively. And, as a basketball fan currently addicted to the NBA Playoffs, I loved that they looked at basketball teams to learn about group effectiveness.

A Berkeley study found that basketball teams that used more congratulatory touch were more likely to cooperate — and more likely to win. The Time article cites a passage from Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior describing the study:

They found that the number of “fist bumps, high fives, chest bumps, leaping shoulder bumps, chest punches, head slaps, head grabs, low fives, high tens, half hugs, and team huddles” correlated significantly with the degree of cooperation among teammates, such as passing to those who are less closely defended, helping others escape defensive pressure by setting what are called “screens,” and otherwise displaying a reliance on a teammate at the expense of one’s own individual performance. The teams that touched the most cooperated the most, and won the most.

One who pays attention to college basketball might wonder whether this year’s team from Monmouth read about the research. Monmouth, not exactly known for being a basketball powerhouse, delighted fans this year with their elaborate bench celebrations that became the thing of legend. Here are two of their more popular ones:

The Trophy Fish:


The Heart Attack:


While correlation doesn’t necessarily mean causation, it’s noteworthy that all this elaborate touch happened during a season in which Monmouth went 28-8, including wins over Notre Dame, USC, and UCLA.


For most of us working on teams off the basketball court, Monmouth-style celebrations probably are not appropriate. I’m not going to go up to my boss and give him a chest bump — let alone the trophy fish — but I could add more fist bumps to my life. I know I would be more likely to cooperate with anyone enthusiastic/crazy enough to give me a random fist bump — and much happier as a result. I mean, it works for the Obamas.1

The point isn’t the fist bump itself — or the fake heart attack or whatever Monmouth players come up with. Fist bumps are simply a great way to celebrate the little things, affirm others, and cultivate connections with people. Those are the things that matter. And the more we do them, the happier we will be.

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The cover image by Flickr user zachclean can be found here.

  1. Sure enough, National Fist Bump Day takes place on June 3 because Michelle and Barack Obama fist bumped on this date in 2008 after he clinched the Democratic nomination, only for a Fox News anchor to say, “A fist bump? A pound? A terrorist fist jab? The gesture everyone seems to interpret differently.”

Michael Rossmann, SJ   /   @RossmannSJ   /   All posts by Michael