Yes, but are they happy? Effects of trait self-control on affective well-being and life satisfaction

J Pers. 2014 Aug;82(4):265-77. doi: 10.1111/jopy.12050. Epub 2013 Aug 8.


Does trait self-control (TSC) predict affective well-being and life satisfaction--positively, negatively, or not? We conducted three studies (Study 1: N = 414, 64% female, Mage = 35.0 years; Study 2: N = 208, 66% female, Mage = 25.24 years; Study 3: N = 234, 61% female, Mage = 34.53 years). The key predictor was TSC, with affective well-being and life satisfaction ratings as key outcomes. Potential explanatory constructs including goal conflict, goal balancing, and emotional distress also were investigated. TSC is positively related to affective well-being and life satisfaction, and managing goal conflict is a key as to why. All studies, moreover, showed that the effect of TSC on life satisfaction is at least partially mediated by affect. Study 1's correlational study established the effect. Study 2's experience sampling approach demonstrated that compared to those low in TSC, those high in TSC experience higher levels of momentary affect even as they experience desire, an effect partially mediated through experiencing lower conflict and emotional distress. Study 3 found evidence for the proposed mechanism--that TSC may boost well-being by helping people avoid frequent conflict and balance vice-virtue conflicts by favoring virtues. Self-control positively contributes to happiness through avoiding and dealing with motivational conflict.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Conflict, Psychological
  • Emotions
  • Female
  • Goals*
  • Happiness*
  • Humans
  • Motivation
  • Personal Satisfaction*
  • Personality*
  • Social Control, Informal*
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Young Adult