Some good news from the Journal of Personality. In a soon-to-be-released study, the Journal will show that people who have more self-control and more self-discipline are happier than those who indulge their whims.
Remember the old siren song: follow your bliss.
Well, now we know that it’s going to make you miserable.
Haven’t we all learned that self-denial is bad, even unhealthy? Don’t we all know—because our therapy culture told us—that it is bad to repress your desires, to the point that it will make you, if not sick, at least neurotic?
New York Magazine reports on the new study:
Giving into life’s little temptations feels pretty great in the moment, but even the smallest sabotages to your long-term goals can add up, subsequently wreaking some emotional havoc over time. “The cost to those indulgences are large, and the costs that are incurred from turning down the indulgences and turning one’s back on tempting options are really not so big compared to the cost that come about from over-indulging,” Kathleen Vohs, a University of Minnesota marketing professor and one of the study’s co-authors, explained to Science of Us.
It turns out that if you make plans for the future and keep yourself focused on whatever it is you need to do to bring them to fruition, you cannot at the same time yield to every temptation.
It’s like being in training for a race or a competition or a recital. You need to follow a strict regimen to be capable of performing at your best. And you need to follow it consistently and regularly—you need to make it a habit.
You do not practice self-control for its own sake. You do it with a goal and a purpose in mind.
Yielding to temptation throws you off your training schedule. It’s the definition of a Pyrrhic victory.
New York explains:
In all three studies, the researchers found a link between self-control and happiness. The findings may be correlational and self-reported (which can always mean people may exaggerate the good stuff and minimize the bad), but the results still feel very true to life. “For me, I’ve actually found it to be quite an eye-opener,” Vohs said. “Because the lesson that should be taken away from this paper is that the best way for people to live healthy and happy lives is to avoid temptations in the first place.” Happiness is about more than living in the moment; it's important to keep the future in mind, too.
Obviously, this ought to be very old news. Surely, this is not the first time you heard that it was best not to yield to temptation. It might be the first time you ever took the idea seriously.
Surely, it is a good sign that researchers are putting the lie to the therapy culture ethic of acting according to your desire, indulging your appetites or sinning with impunity.
Such behaviors have a price, not so much in terms of your access to the afterlife, but in terms of your future. Instructions to indulge yourself in the present, live in the present, live in the moment, stop and smell the roses have led people to be less purposeful in their lives and to accomplish less over time. It is a formula for producing unhappiness.