(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.
At first glance, “delayed gratification,” doesn’t sound like a ton of fun. 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.”
The Cliff Notes On The 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! The 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. 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). I love Aristotle’s philosophies so much, I even named my son “Ari” as a “wink” to Aristotle’s name.
One of my favorite Aristotle beliefs: The reason why so many people are unhappy is that they confuse “pleasure” for “true happiness.”
Aristotle also put forth another important life philosophy – which also relates back to “fake happiness” versus “true happiness.” Aristotle believed that the best way to start any project – including the project called “Your Life” – is to begin with the ends in mind -or what he called “your teleology.”
Aristotle asked: “Shall we not, like archers who have a mark to aim at, be more likely to hit upon what is right?”
Aristotle believed that your “life teleology” (aka: “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” – which is to become your best possible self.
So, how do we become our best possible self? We must consistently prioritize habits of good character and strive for excellence.
Aristotle recognized this goal is easier said than done.
Aristotle’s recommendation? 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.
Aristotle 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.
Path#1 : The Impulse-Directed path – 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.
Path #2: The Growth Directed path – 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!
Aristotle Put Forth: The tempting Impulse-Directed path is not a short cut to happiness. It’s a bumpy, dead end road leading straight to fake happiness, depression, disappointment and failure.
Aristotle Put Forth: The Growth-Directed path might at first look loooong and mountainous to climb, but it 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. After all, Aristotle defined “the good life” as the “admirable life” – a life in which you’re doing actions your soul can be proud of – so you can bloom into your best possible self.
Unfortunately it’s not simply enough to know that delayed gratification rocks. 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.” Be sure to sign up for my newsletter.
And if you’re seeking psychological tools to resist the immediate gratification pull for food, click here now!