You’ll experience immediate fulfillment and pleasure if you grab a fast food cheeseburger or a sticky-sweet pastry. However, that happiness is fleeting, and if it is routinely indulged in, it can lead to a poor health profile later in life, which is sure to make you feel unwell.
But how would you feel if you didn’t stop for that burger and, instead, cooked a healthy meal from scratch, or picked up a prepared vegetable salad and perhaps a serving of grilled chicken from the deli?
The reasons why some of us choose healthier lifestyles than others have been the subject of extensive investigation. According to a review of the relevant literature conducted by British researchers from the Universities of Kent and Reading and published in the Journal of Happiness Studies, the capacity to postpone gratification results in healthier lifestyle decisions that result in higher levels of overall life satisfaction.
The lifelong pleasure of people who maintained healthier diets, exercised more, and were able to keep a long-term perspective on the advantages of these lifestyle choices was compared to others who indulged more for short-term gratification.
They also examined the impact of each person’s capacity for self-regulation and locus of control, or how much they felt in charge of and responsible for their own lives, on life happiness.
The researchers note that those who can postpone gratification are better able to understand how eating healthier foods and engaging in regular exercise are investments in their long-term health and wellbeing and how these decisions are ultimately more satisfying than selecting the more immediate indulgence of eating fast foods and junk foods or leading a more sedentary lifestyle.
Even if the unhealthy options are more pleasant right away, they can result in worse health over term. What motivates you to make one decision over another, according to the study, is what determines your decisions.
Do you satisfy the sense of purpose you feel when you invest in your future health by eating well and getting enough exercise, or are you more likely to satisfy your present need for more immediate pleasures?
This discovery builds on the work of other researchers, including Lowenstein and Ruhm, who created a model in which two distinct brain regions play a role in decision-making.
The first encourages more instinctive consumption, whereas the second promotes abstract thought and planning. The first seeks out instant gratification and prefers diets high in fat, sugar, carbs, and meat. The second results in delayed gratification and acknowledges the importance of eating a lot of fruits and vegetables as well as other healthy practices.
Other researchers, such as Thaler and Shefrin, developed the idea of a “long-term self” and a “short-term self.” The long-term self is the planner and the short-term self is the immediate consumer.
The British researchers point out that these theories also hold true for physical activity and remind us that one definition of happiness is the absence of suffering. While a challenging workout may be uncomfortable at first, the long-term benefits usually include increased strength and wellbeing.
According to their review, males are more likely than women to find happiness through exercise, while women are more likely to find happiness through eating more healthfully. The capacity to take charge of one’s happiness and postpone gratification for the sake of long-term health and wellbeing, however, is essential to either source of overall life satisfaction.