(NOTE: This essay is about why having a lot of self control makes you happier. It is Part 2 in a series on breaking the trouble-making habit of immediate gratification. You can read the first essay by clicking here.)
Recently there’s been a series of studies which link the ability to “delay gratification” with enjoying higher levels of happiness.
In fact, many modern day clinical and social psychologists have even gone on record calling “self-control” the “master virtue” to strive for – above and beyond all other virtues.
But when you think about it, the better you’re able to delay gratification, the more likely you are to achieve academic success, monetary success, relationship success, and stronger physical health.
Here’s a quick peek at some happiness perks of self control – as reported in the famous “Marshmallow Test.”
Pre-school children were given a choice between enjoying one marshmallow now – or getting two marshmallows later.
The follow-up studies on the “2-marshmallow kids” are enlightening!
Kids who were able to hold out for 2 marshmallows were renamed “high-delayers.”
And these “high delayers” were later shown to score higher on their SAT’s, be more likely to complete their education, have better jobs, make more money, stay married, live healthier lives and have less addictions.
Each minute that a 2-marshmallow high-delayer was able to delay gratification translated to a .2% reduction in Body Mass Index 30 years later.
These 2-marshmallow high-delayers also displayed more social competence, greater self-assuredness and higher self-worth.
And these 2-marshmallow high-delayers were also rated by their parents as more mature, better able to cope with stress, more likely to plan ahead, more likely to use reason – and less likely to have conduct disorders, aggressiveness and hyperactivity.
Even though these various studies on “delayed gratification” were done recently, my favorite philosopher Aristotle raved about the happiness perks of “self control” waaaaay back in the 300’s BC!
As many of my readers know I have a Platonic crush on Aristotle. I write about his philosophies often (in my books, video courses).
In fact, I love Aristotle’s philosophies so much, I even named my son “Ari” as a “wink” to Aristotle’s name.
The reason why so many people are unhappy is that they confuse “pleasure” for “true happiness.”
Hedonia / pleasure is all about immediate gratification of the body and/or ego.
It’s impulse-driven hedonism – hit and run joy – superficial and fleeting.
Basically, it’s “fake happiness.”
When you’re caught up in “pleasure,” you’re “body-focused” or “ego-focused” or “superficially-externally-focused” – instead of “soul-focused” (or “true-core-self-focused”).
Eudaimonia / true happiness is all about surrounding yourself with habits and people who stretch your soul – and thereby empower you to grow into your highest potential.
Often “true happiness” requires “delayed gratification.” You have to put in the extra effort of discipline, patience and assorted strong character values – before that “feel good high” kicks in.
But when it does, it’s amped up higher than “pleasure” can ever take you.
Plus “true happiness” creates “long-haul joy” – because “true happiness” is all about growing who you are inside of yourself – so it lasts as long as YOU last.
Basically, Aristotle believed that “true happiness” is about recognizing that your soul is your ultimate g-spot for happiness – not your ego or body.
If you want to be happy, you gotta do actions your soul can be proud of!
Aristotle also put forth another important life philosophy – which also relates back to “fake happiness” versus “true happiness.”
He believed that the best way to start any project – including the project called “Your Life” – is to begin with the ends in mind.
Aristotle called this “final ends for life” – “your end goal for living on this planet” – the singular word: “teleology.”
“Shall we not, like archers who have a mark to aim at, be more likely to hit upon what is right?” he asked.
He believed that your “teleology” (aka: “your final ends for life”) is the same as my “final ends for life.”
Indeed, everyone on this planet shares the same “final ends for life.”
This universally shared final ends: “become your best possible self.”
We must consistently prioritize habits of good character and strive for excellence.
Sounds easier said than done, eh?
Aristotle agreed this was a tough goal to stick to.
He repeatedly explained how this goal of “true happiness” required embracing strong character values – like courage, discipline, patience etc…
You must regularly, mindfully focus on your “final ends for life” – and make choices based on whatever will help you to become your best possible self.
He put forth that you have 2 paths you can take in life – and only 1 of these 2 paths will lead you to become your best self.
This path is where you “sleep-walk” through life – pursuing immediate gratification pleasure – “fake happiness.”
The Impulse-Directed Path double-duties as the Body-Directed path and/or the Ego-Directed path.
This path is where you live an “awake” life – pursuing “true happiness” – even if it means putting up with a “time delay” until you feel/attain those longer-term 2-marshmallow-level greater rewards for your efforts.
The Growth-Directed path double-duties as the Soul-Directed path – and the True-Happiness-Directed Path.
Plus, when you choose this second “Growth-Directed Path,” you’re better prepared to face life’s challenges, failures and obstacles.
Why? Because when you’re Growth-Directed (and not Impulse-Directed) you embrace long-term benefits of challenges, failures and obstacles – viewing them as opportunities to learn and grow into your best possible self!
It’s a bumpy, dead end road leading straight to fake happiness, depression, disappointment and failure.
But this path gets easier and easier the more you climb it – because you develop “up-the-high-road-we-shall go muscles.”
Knowing Aristotle’s love and respect for “delayed gratification,” I’m betting he wouldn’t have been at all surprised to hear that those 2-marshmallow high-delayer kids wound up happier in the longterm than those 1-marshmallow impulse-directed kids.
Aristotle believe a good and happy life is one in which you’re doing admirable actions your soul can be proud of – so you can bloom into your best possible self.
You must also have the ability to choose “delayed gratification” – and choose it regularly – on a daily basis.
I will be writing more about this incredibly important subject – in a series of essays – and sharing tools to help you to become a “high delayer.”
And if you’re seeking psychological tools to resist the immediate gratification pull for food, click here now!