Psychologists define happiness as the relative absence of negative feelings (misery), an abundance of positive feelings (joy and others), and a feeling of satisfaction with our lives. This chapter addresses the problem of unnecessary misery, the kind we bring on ourselves through self-defeating behavior, making unhealthy choices, acting impulsively before we know all the information, and so on.
When we give in to these self-defeating impulses, we usually tell ourselves we couldn’t help it, because we simply lack the will power to change, as if self control were some trait like eye color that was doled out at birth. That’s a huge myth. Will power and self control are actually skills that we can learn with practice. I have an intensive exercise that when followed regularly will help build self control like weight lifting develops biceps. And self control doesn’t only mean dieting or depriving yourself of the good things in life; it also means learning how to shut down negative thinking and stop picking on ourselves about all the character flaws we discussed in the last chapter.
With greater self control we also find it much easier to resist the temptations of consumer society, of quick fixes, fad diets, new pills, and the influence of other people in our lives who contribute to our problems. At the same time we learn to listen better, to hear more clearly what we and others are truly saying; this by itself removes a lot of conflict and misunderstanding from our lives.