Self control and happiness

Little bit of fascinating social science on happiness in a nice Atlantic summary:

RESULTS: The more self-control people reported having, the more satisfied they reported being with their lives. And contrary to what the researchers were expecting, people with more self-control were also more likely to be happy in the short-term. In fact, when they further analyzed the data, they found that such people’s increased happiness to a large extent accounted for the increased life satisfaction.

IMPLICATIONS: As they go about their daily lives, people with a lot of self-control appear to generally be in higher spirits; in the long run, they’re happier with their lives. To explain why this would be so, the researchers conducted another online survey. What they figured out is that instead of constantly denying themselves, people high in self-control are simply less likely to find themselves in situations where that’s even an issue. They don’t waste time fighting inner battles over whether or not to eat a second piece of cake. They’re above such petty temptations. And that, it would seem, makes them happier … if still just a little bit sad.

Interesting.  I’m definitely a very happy person and I’d like to think I also do pretty well on self control.  So, there’s an N of 1.  Not sure of how the authors interpret the results, though.  Seems to me, that people with self control are simply better able to make decisions that lead to long-term happiness and that’s going to pervasively result in a lifestyle that’s happier moment to moment.  It’s not a matter of being “above petty temptations,” rather, the person with high self control will have completed college, landed a good job, have economic stability, and formed a stable adult relationship.  The person with low self control will have a much worse, if any job, more economic troubles, and more relationship troubles.  And plenty more issues as well, I’m sure.  All of these things will make a huge difference in not only long-term, but moment-to-moment satisfaction.

The good news about this, unlike cognitive ability, we can teach self control (though I sure need to work a hell of a lot harder on this with my oldest son).

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About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

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