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Self-control, pro-social behavior can make you happier

A recent study reveals a linear correlation between self-control and life satisfaction scores.

Self-control refers to an individual’s ability to adjust thoughts and behavior to comply with social, organizational, or self-directed norms and expectations. Usually, people with higher self-regulation demonstrate higher grade average, better career progress, personal development, and interpersonal relationships – parameters directly linked to life satisfaction.

While life satisfaction parameters reach saturation over certain self-control scores, the question asked is whether more self-control (which might be associated with more anxiety, inability to enjoy the moment) would decrease rather than increase life satisfaction scores.

Pro-social behavior, which is an individual’s actions directed to benefit others, such as helping, sharing, caring, or promoting other’s wellbeing – has been also described as factor contributing to life satisfaction scores. Pro-social behavior is usually promoted in many cultures, however, pro-social behavior that doesn’t lead to direct pay-offs, requires motivation, which is, in turn, linked to self-control. Some studies have reported that attempts to improve life satisfaction in people with low self-control, by boosting their self-control, may not be optimal.

Two questions have been addressed in a recent evidence-based study among Chinese adolescents, college students, and full-time employees:

  1. Does too much self-control decrease rather than increase life satisfaction scores?
  2. Is there is a link between pro-social behavior, life satisfaction and self-control?

Researchers conducted self-reported survey among adolescents (N = 1,009), university students (N = 2,620), and adult workers (N = 500) and assessed their life satisfaction and pro-social behavior using adapted questionnaires for each age-group.

Study results are consistent with previous observations, showing that an increase in self-control correlates with an increase in life satisfaction across all three test groups.  The linear increase persists to a certain point, with no additional gain in life satisfaction above the point across middle school and university students. For adult employees, more self-control continued contributing to a higher life satisfaction score. For all samples, there was no evidence of a decrease in life satisfaction as a result of too much self-control.

Regarding the link between the self-control, pro-social behavior, and wellbeing – there is some evidence across samples indicating there is a relationship between those three parameters. However, according to the researchers, the data should be taken with cautions as the analysis is based on self-reported questionnaires, and in narrow context – the above parameters can vary across different cultures.

Taken together the study implies that life satisfaction increases in people with higher self-control, with no harm from too much self-control. In addition, researchers report, engaging in pro-social activities, most likely through the self-control recruitment, would contribute towards an individual’s sense of happiness.


Written by Bella Groisman



Kai Dou, Jian-Bin Li, Yu-Jie Wang, Jing-Jing Li, Zi-Qin Liang, Yan-Gang Nie.  Engaging in prosocial behavior explains how high self-control relates to more life satisfaction: Evidence from three Chinese samples, PlosOne, October 14, 2019

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay



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