Check your existential compass bearings, my friend. You will find that the destination of happiness always lies somewhere in the direction of self-control.
“Part of the reason for this is that a good day is not necessarily compatible with a happy life,” wrote Jennifer Michael Hecht in her book “The Happiness Myth: Why What We Think Is Right is Wrong.” “TV and beer is fun now, but good grades are bigger joy, and they require some resistance to TV and beer.
“The big desires have always been food, wine, sex, revenge, riches, products and fame. The danger — beyond fat, stupidity, syphilis, narcissism, taxes, clutter and gout — is meaninglessness. These desires and the hunt to fulfill them feel meaningless because they are only intrasubjectively sensible: while you are in a fit of wanting, planning and satisfying a desire — for revenge, say — it all makes sense. However, the moment after the gun goes off, or the moment after someone snaps you out of your thrall, you can see that the whole thing is a small, dark, crazy mess, like a tangle of seaweed on the beautiful beach of a majestic continent.”
And when you finally see those weeds for what they are, she writes, “…you will see that you have been wasting your time on something without any real merit or, worse, something that harms yourself and others.”
The four central virtues for the Stoics were intelligence, bravery, justice and self-control, a list that always brings me the rather rueful reminder that Christianity simply ignores the first, and doesn't pay too much attention to the other three, either.
But despite the fact that our narcissistic, consumption-crazed culture actively discourages self-control, it remains a necessary condition of our happiness. No wonder so few are happy.
“Why do I not seek some real good; one which I could feel, not one which I could display?” wondered the stoic Lucius Annaeus Seneca. “What nature requires is obtainable, and within easy reach. It is for the superfluous we sweat.”
“You feel good, you feel bad, and these feelings are bubbling from your own unconsciousness, from your own past,” Osho wrote. “Nobody is responsible except you. Nobody can make you angry, and nobody can make you happy.”
But the stoics had a suggestion on how to get there — take the good that comes your way, and use the bad as best you can. “The good things of prosperity are to be wished; but the good things that belong to adversity are to be admired,” wrote Seneca. “Let us train our minds to desire what the situation demands.”
Sources: “The Happiness Myth” by Jennifer Michael Hecht