The Connection Between Happiness and Self Control

Research has just been released that confirms what so many parents, teachers, coaches and youth workers have been saying to kids for years now.

According to TIME journalist Maia Szalavitz, in an article entitled Self-Disciplined People are Happier (and Not as Deprived as You Think),” there is a direct link between self-discipline and fulfillment:

“…researchers found a strong connection between higher levels of self-control and life satisfaction. The authors write that ‘feeling good rather than bad may be a core benefit of having good self-control, and being well satisfied with life is an important consequence’…”

photo credit: *vlad* via photopin cc

photo credit: *vlad* via photopin cc

More than 230 participants were asked to list three important goal conflicts they experienced regularly. They were then asked to rate how strongly the goals conflicted, how frequently they experienced the conflict, and how they managed to balance their goals. The highly self-controlled showed a distinct difference from those with less discipline over their lives. They tended to avoid creating situations in which their goals would conflict and reported fewer instances of having to choose between short-term pleasure and long-term pain. The result? They experienced fewer negative emotions. Further, the study shows that self-control doesn’t always mean self-denial. It may mean saving now to get a big payoff later. In short, “self-control isn’t the best route to instant gratification, but it may bring something even better: long-term contentment.”

“But I Want it Now!”

Our problem is—our young people live in a world of instant and self-gratification. In fact, we all do. We don’t know how to delay what we want. It’s no wonder we see so much angst and depression among students today. Certainly, anxiety, depression and unhappiness can stem from chemical imbalances. The average, healthy teen, however, seldom experiences the satisfaction of working and waiting on something they really want. We make sure of it. Ours is a world of speed, convenience and entertainment. Ironically, this doesn’t actually lead to satisfaction. Note the SCENE our kids grow up in today, and what the unintended consequences are for this SCENE:

Our World if Full of: Consequently, we can assume:
S – Speed Slow is bad. We avoid it.
C – Convenience Hard is bad. We avoid it.
E – Entertainment Boring is bad. We avoid it.
N – Nurture Risk is bad. We avoid it.
E – Entitlement Labor is bad. We avoid it.

It’s time we talk this over with our students. The stuff our culture screams at us is not always accurate. Sometimes we need life to be slow to develop patience. At times, it’s good to have to struggle through a hard problem to develop tenacity. Maybe, just maybe, we need a few boring moments to help us appreciate the pleasure of talent, content and entertainment. Finally, it may just be we need to take a few risks and even fail at something to really appreciate success.

I don’t know about you—but I’d rather trade in my kids’ short-term happiness if I knew they’d experience the long-term satisfaction of a disciplined life. May I suggest you talk over this research with your students and ask what it means to them?


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The Connection Between Happiness and Self Control