Too much of a good thing? Exploring the inverted-U relationship between self-control and happiness

J Pers. 2018 Jun;86(3):380-396. doi: 10.1111/jopy.12322. Epub 2017 Jun 21.


Objective: Can having too much self-control make people unhappy? Researchers have increasingly questioned the unilateral goodness of self-control and proposed that it is beneficial only up to a certain point, after which it becomes detrimental. The little empirical research on the issue shows mixed results. Hence, we tested whether a curvilinear relationship between self-control and subjective well-being exists.

Method: We used multiple metrics (questionnaires, behavioral ratings), sources (self-report, other-report), and methods (cross-sectional measurement, dayreconstruction method, experience sampling method) across six studies (Ntotal = 5,318).

Results: We found that self-control positively predicted subjective well-being (cognitive and affective), but there was little evidence for an inverted U-shaped curve. The results held after statistically controlling for demographics and other psychological confounds.

Conclusion: Our main finding is that self-control enhances subjective well-being with little to no apparent downside of too much self-control.

Keywords: curvilinear; happiness; self-control; self-regulation; well-being.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Happiness*
  • Humans
  • Impulsive Behavior / physiology*
  • Male
  • Personal Satisfaction*
  • Self-Control*
  • United States
  • Young Adult