Hedonic Goal Pursuit is Equally Important as Self-Control for Wellbeing
Wed, April 14, 2021

Hedonic Goal Pursuit is Equally Important as Self-Control for Wellbeing


Hedonism, which comes from the ancient Greek word “pleasure” is a philosophy, which considers pleasure as the most important pursuit of mankind. It is believed that a hedonist is someone who tries to minimize pain and maximize pleasure. They may do activities that do not contribute directly to their long-term goals, like eating delicious food or relaxing on the couch.

Hedonism is an adaptive aspect of self-regulation

In a new study conducted by Katharina Bernecker from the University of Zurich Switzerland and Daniela Becker from Leibniz-Institut für Wissensmedien in Germany, it was found that hedonism is as important as self-control for people’s well-being and happiness.

It has long been established that self-control or the ability to alter and regulate responses to increase desirable behaviors, avoid undesirable ones, and achieve long-term goals is important for well-being and health. Common goals, like exercising regularly, losing weight, not procrastinating, eating healthy, saving money, and giving up bad habits are only some worthwhile goals that need self-control. However, the new study that was published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulleting argues for a greater appreciation of hedonistic goal pursuit in psychology.

People set long-term goals from time to time, such as learning a foreign language, eating less sugar, or getting fit. So, Bernecker and Becker devote their time to determine how we reach these goals more effectively. By far, the prevailing view is that self-control enables us to let go of momentary pleasure and focus on long-term goals. If a person is good at self-control, his or her attitude will likely result in a more successful and happier life.



Self-regulation and hedonism

“It’s time for a rethink,” Bernecker told research news platform Futurity. As someone who studies motivational psychology, she explains that of course self-control is important. However, self-regulation studies should also pay as much attention to short-term pleasure or hedonism. This is because the capacity to experience enjoyment or pleasure contributes also to a satisfied or happy life the same self-control does.

The authors created a questionnaire to determine their respondents’ capacity for hedonism. It helps them measure these subjects’ ability to focus on their immediate needs and enjoy short-term happiness. The result shows that some people get distracted by intrusive thoughts in moments of enjoyment or relaxation by thinking about the tasks or activities that they should be doing instead. For instance, when they are lying on the couch, they may continue to think of the sport that they are not doing. These thoughts conflict their long-term goals and it destabilizes their immediate need to relax.

On the contrary, individuals who can fully enjoy those moments usually have a higher sense of well-being not just in the short-term. They are also less likely to suffer from anxiety and depression, among other things. Bernecker highlighted that the pursuit of long-term and hedonic goals need not conflict with one another. Both can complement each other and are important in achieving good health and well-being.



Finding the right balance

Bernecker said that it is important for people to find the right balance in their everyday life. Nevertheless, simply eating more good food, seeing friends, and sitting more on the couch will not automatically make a person happier. It is about “really enjoying” hedonic choice and not see it just as an easier option than self-control.

The finding is of immediate relevance as more people are now working from home. The environment where they normally rest has now suddenly become associated with their work. Bernecker added that it can lead to more distracting thoughts when a person continues to think of work that they still need to finish even when they are at home. As a result, they are less able to relax.

World Happiness Report

The World Happiness Report, a landmark survey of the state of global happiness that ranks 156 countries by how happy their citizens perceive themselves to be, found that Finland is the happiest country in the world last year. It takes the top spot based on the three years of surveys with a score of 7.769. The ranking was based on the analysis of the country’s GDP per capita, social support, healthy life expectancy, freedom to make life choices, generosity, perception of corruption, and dystopia (imagined society characterized by human misery, disease, overcrowding, oppression, and squalor).

Other countries crowned in the ranking of happiness include Denmark (7.600), Norway (7.554), Iceland (7.494), Netherlands (7.488), Switzerland (7.480), Sweden (7.343), New Zealand (7.307), Canada (7.278), and Austria (7.246). On the other hand, South Sudan ranked the lowest (156th) in the 2019 World Happiness Report.

Happiness boosters in numbers

There are different things that people can do if they need a quick boost to improve their emotional state. A Gallup poll found that people are happiest on weekends likely because of the amount of time we spent with our loved ones. It shows that Americans are the happiest on days when they spend six to seven hours socializing. On an average day, 49% of Americans experience a lot of enjoyment and happiness without a lot of worry and stress while only 10% say that they experience daily worry and stress that far outweighs their enjoyment and happiness.

More than 140,000 Americans were surveyed by Gallup. Those who report being alone all day or zero hours of social time have the poorest score on Happiness-Stress Index with only 32% of them experience much happiness and enjoyment being alone.

To a certain extent, making more money also makes people happier. According to Happify Daily, the annual salary that can put a smile on the average person’s face is worth $75,000. It is not because making more money affects their day to day happiness but bringing home less than $75,000 annually could mean that a person has undergone more hardships, such as ill-health or divorce. Having sex once a week is also found to make people 44% more likely to have positive feelings. Furthermore, the happiest age is 30-something as it’s a time when people have wisdom, energy, and money all at once.

The study literature highlights on how we can improve at pursuing our long-term goals, such as getting healthier or fitter. It’s not all just about self-control but also celebrating small wins and enjoying life now.