Belief in your own willpower is likely to make you happier

    29 September 2015

    A study published in the Journal of Personality has found that people who have more faith in their own willpower are happier than those who don’t.

    The definition of ‘willpower’ — the ​ability to ​control ​thoughts and behaviour — and whether or not it is a finite resource is debated by psychologists.

    This study asked people to report their feelings about their own willpower, and then tested their ability to cope with difficult situations.

    The researchers found that people who report seeing willpower as unlimited are happier with life, and this is partly because they are better at coping with life’s demands.

    The researchers, led by Katharina Bernecker from the University of Zurich, questioned a group of 258 people (mostly women with an average age of 39) and found that those who agreed with statements like ‘Your mental stamina fuels itself; even after a strenuous mental exertion you can continue doing more of it’ tended to score higher on satisfaction and mood tests.

    To obtain a more detailed picture they carried out further investigations with university students, asking them about their willpower beliefs at the start of the academic year, and then again before exam time.

    They found that positive belief in personal willpower was strongly associated with greater life satisfaction and a better mood, both at the start of the year and as exams approached.

    Carol Dweck, who has worked with Bernecker on similar research, has published a study asserting that willpower is unlimited, and is a purely abstract concept. This challenged the previously held view that it depended on outside factors such as a consistent supply of glucose.