How Self-Restraint is Linked to Happiness

This past week I have been focussing on cutting out gluttonous behaviour, while applying more restraint on myself. There’s a few things I have learnt from doing this, as well as from the reading I have done, so I want to emphasise how important it is to adopt temperance for a healthier and happier mind-set.

Studies have shown that self-discipline is linked to many mental benefits, including happiness (See https://bigthink.com/personal-growth/how-to-improve-self-control?rebelltitem=1#rebelltitem1 for more information)
Picture source: https://www.t-nation.com/diet-fat-loss/tip-how-to-increase-self-control

At first I thought gluttony was just about taking in excessive amounts of food and drink that you want rather than need. So I started at that, and have stopped eating out of boredom, but I also realised that taking this rule too seriously takes away the occasional delicious treat (as you really don’t need it, it just tastes nice). When researching this eating aspect more, I came across resources that proposed gluttony is also about becoming slaves to food as a substance – If we don’t have it at the right time we might get ‘hangry’, you might not know why you are having something as you ‘need it right now’, and you might be led to eating food of poor quality in high quantity.

Over time this behaviour pattern with any substance has aversive effects. Why? Dopamine is the answer!

Dopamine is the neurotransmitter that motivates to engage in pleasurable activities, such as eating, smoking, gambling, videogames, and so on. This can over time lead to addiction due to reducing the sensitivity of dopamine receptors, increasing the threshold of the pleasure experience and making us engage in a given activity more. It also leads to the reduced ability of enjoying (or getting a dopamine response from) less ‘addictive’ things in life, such as reading, hiking, crafting, exercise. We become adapted to the high and quick dopamine release when engaging in the prior mentioned activities, while behaviours that might benefit our mental and physical state become less and less desirable to engage in.

This is where self-restraint plays a powerful tool – The ability to say no to inviting pleasurable experiences does not only heighten your enjoyment when you do allow yourself to engage in those, but also makes simple things in life better. You become more grateful and accepting of the non-addictive parts of life, while giving into gluttonous behaviour reduces the enjoyment we can experience and enslaves you to the quick and high dopamine releasing activities.

This makes self-restraint a really important habit to adopt! It takes time to build habits, so don’t rush this. I recommend writing down each activity you did during the day and rating from 1-10 how much you actually enjoyed it through reflection, and how much it meant to you and your growth as a person (see my example below). Once you learn what does not matter to you and your life, cut down on those things and learn to say no, despite their temptation. Restraining yourself will be hard at first, but it will form your life around activities you find actually meaningful, rather than wasting your time.

During the day, it helps to keep note of what you have been up to and track its enjoyment and meaning, which leads you initiate positive changes.

So, remember: Practice and effort lead you to adopt habits that will easily let you say no through trained self-discipline, and ultimately you will enjoy life a lot more 🙂 During this next week, I will be focussing on being more charitable and less greedy, which is one I am excited for, as I have always favoured giving over receiving! Let’s see what that says about me…

Resources

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9pMbi7wmVmg

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gluttony

https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/americas-most-tolerated-sin