“(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.”
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 precondition of our happiness. No wonder so few are happy.