New scientific research agrees.
The research, published in the Journal of Personality, concludes: "Self-control positively contributes to happiness through avoiding and dealing with motivational conflict."
Through a series of tests — including one that assessed 414 middle-aged participants on self-control and asked them about their life satisfaction both currently and in the past — and another that randomly queried volunteers on their smartphones about their mood and any desires they might be experiencing, the 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.”Additionally, self-control appears to be linked to mood: Those who reported more self-control experienced fewer bad moods. But that's not because they denied themselves things they wanted.
This didn’t appear to linked to being more able to resist temptations — it was because they exposed themselves to fewer situations that might evoke craving in the first place. They were, in essence, setting themselves up to happy. “People who have good self-control do a number of things that bring them happiness — namely, they avoid problematic desires and conflict,” says the study’s co-author Kathleen Vohs, professor of marketing at the University of Minnesota.Not only does the study confirm the value of discipline, it also supports the Buddhist idea of renunciation. The precepts, or guidelines, laid out by the Buddha for those who aspire to enlightenment, recommend refraining from a number of unwholesome behaviors: Lying, killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, and inebriation.
For monastics, those are rules, and violations can result in dismissal (although different traditions look at them with more or less strictness). For lay people, they are guidelines for measuring whether conduct is beneficial.
By giving up certain behaviors, we make space for good choices -- or, to quote the study's author, to do the things that bring us happiness.