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Sunday, 29 January 2012

What do self-control & resilience have to do with happiness?

Two pieces in 'The Observer' caught my eye this last week-end.

The first in the book reviews section featured two books on willpower. Maximum Willpower by Kelly McGonigal and 'Willpower' by Roy F. Bauminster  and John Tierney.

It took me back to the early days of my relationship with the man who became my husband. He was impatient to do whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted. He didn't believe in waiting. I used to tease him, applying the psychology I was studying on my course to become a social worker: 'The trouble with you, is that no-one ever taught you at the age of three to defer your gratification!' (Though now he has no trouble in waiting for good wine to mature!)

Well it turns out that the extent to which children are able to defer their gratification at the age of four, is a predictor of future performance. Out of more than thirty personality traits used to compare students, only self-control turned out to be an accurate predictor of grade point average.

Baumeister and Tierney posit: ' Self-control is ultimately about much more than self-help. It's essential for savouring your time on earth and sharing joy with the people you love. People with strong willpower are more altruistic. They are more likely to donate to charity, to do volunteer work and to offer their own homes as shelter to someone with no place to go.' They believe that willpower evolved to help us get along that little bit better with other people. 

Sounds to me like self-control has an important contribution to make to our sense of well-being and happiness.

Which takes me nicely to the second thing to catch my eye. This was a report on Labour's shadow health secretary, Andy Burnham"s warning to the coalition about its 'happiness agenda'. Burnham argued that there needs to be more action to help people cope with the stresses of life. He believes that the priority should be to provide support to help people build up resilience to better withstand hard times.

In fact building resilience and the nurturing of happiness are connected. People can learn to notice the many small good things in everyday life, and to be consciously thankful for them. This in turn builds strength and resilience. There is good evidence of the extent to which people can be taught how to nurture happiness as a way to overcome depression and handle the tough things in life. Have a look at positive psychologists Barbara Fredrickson's research work on positive emotion and Martin Seligman's work on resilience to learn more.

So  I was doubly pleased to get as a freebie with my Sunday paper Tal Ben-Shahar's book 'Happier'. Lots of tactics in there to help me build up my resilience through self-control, altruism and noticing and appreciating all that is good, better  and best in my own life.

Tags: self-control; willpower; resilience; happiness