When we think of people with a high self-control, we cannot avoid thinking about how restrained and deprived they might be. Whenever we restrain ourselves, we tend to think that we are missing something.
Therefore, it can be argued that a high level of self-control makes a miserable life by depriving us of valuable and joyful things in life.
However, a new study (Hofmann et al., 2013) shows that this is not the case, and it shows that self-control (or self-discipline) is not just about being deprived.
In fact, self-control may contribute to both momentary and long-term happiness. Self-control may not give instant gratification, instead it may bring contentment in the long run.
Self-control is about managing conflicting drives: a drive toward the fulfillment of basic needs, and a drive toward becoming one’s ideal self.
To become one’s ideal self, one often needs to postpone needs through goal-directed behaviours. Postponing needs (delay gratification) can be difficult in the moment, but it may result in great long-term benefits when we do.
In the study, over 400 participants had their level of self-control examined, and at the same time, they were asked about their current life satisfaction as well as their life satisfication in the past.
Those with a high self-control were more satisfied with life than those who had a low self-control. This is probably due to the fact that being self-disciplined improves mood.
Indeed, those with high self-control reported that they had good moods more frequently. This finding may reflect the fact that achieving one’s goals is a measure of success and it provides satisfaction, which is likely to make us happy.
The study suggests that people with high self-control are not necessarily better at resisting temptations. In fact, they may just expose themselves to fewer craving-provoking situations.
In this way, self-disciplined people can remain happy because they avoid desires and conflicts. Thus, self-control can be a way of avoiding temptation.