It’s very easy to think that living an overly self-disciplined life translates into less fun and diminished happiness. However, recent research by Wilhelm Hofmann at the University of Chicago reveals just the opposite. It turns out that self-control correlates highly with life satisfaction and happiness. In other words, exerting self-control can make you happier in both the moment and the long run.
The research, which was published in the Journal of Personality, indicates that participants showing the greatest self-control report being in a good mood more frequently than being in a bad one. What is even more fascinating about the finding is that it doesn’t seem to be linked to a greater capacity to resist temptation. Instead, the study points to the idea that the practice of self-discipline exposes individuals to fewer situations that might evoke craving in the first place. “People who have good self-control do a number of things that bring them happiness — namely, they avoid problematic desires and conflict,” says the study’s co-author Kathleen Vohs, Professor of Marketing at the University of Minnesota.
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. One interpretation of the findings is that people use self-control to set up their lives so as to avoid problems. This concept points to the usefulness of my frequent saying, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.”
Instead of approaching your efforts towards a healthy lifestyle as confining, or a less pleasurable version of life, consider how the self-control can actually enhance your happiness. Self-discipline is empowering. It wards off the negative emotions inherent in chaos and feelings of being out of control. Self-discipline fortifies your life, making it less susceptible to inner conflicts involving temptations and willpower.