A Surprising Key to Happiness

Dave_TrainerSometimes self-disciplined people may seem like “goody goodies”, “uptight”, or “stuck in a box”.  How can they really be happy resisting all the “good stuff” in life?  Sure, self-discipline is important to the success of any diet and exercise program, but is it really linked with happiness too?

The Journal of Personality recently published a study that showed exerting self-control can make you happier not only in the long run, but also in the moment.

414 middle-aged adults took a series of tests to assess their levels of self-control and satisfaction with life.  The researchers found that self-control and satisfaction with life were closely connected.  Another test assessed participants at random times and asked them to rate their mood and whether they felt any immediate desires.  They found that a good mood and sense of satisfaction were also linked to what psychologists call “trait self-control.”

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In another experiment, researchers evaluated how self-control affects the way people handle goals that conflict with one another.  For example, how individuals differ when choosing between the pleasure of eating a cupcake versus the pain of gaining weight.  The researchers asked more than 230 participants to write out three important goal conflicts they experienced regularly and to rate the intensity of frequency of the conflicts.  The researchers found that participants with strong self-control were more inclined to avoid creating situations in which their goals clashed, which means they reported fewer instances of having to pick between short-term pleasure and long-term pain.

What Was the Result?

These participants experienced fewer negative emotions (prolonged guilt, shame) and tended to create situations for themselves to be happy.  The study’s co-author Kathleen Vohs, a professor of marketing at the University of Minnesota said, “People who have good self-control do a number of things that bring them happiness-namely, they avoid problematic desires and conflicts.”  They struggle less with resisting temptation and wind up with fewer bad feelings and more overall contentment.

In a nutshell, practicing discipline, or self-control, may be less about resisting temptation and more about finding ways to happily avoid it.

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