Self-discipline is the mother of happiness

Does the title of this article sound like a contradiction or oxymoron? After all, self-discipline makes one think of work or effort, while happiness brings up thoughts of pleasure and the absence of work. So, how can the two go together? Well, first we have to understand what happiness is. It is peace of mind. And what exactly does that mean? That simply means FREEDOM FROM shame, guilt, regret, anger, resentment, greed, jealousy, frustration, sadness, self-doubt, fear, boredom, stress, anxiety, loneliness, and all other negative emotions.

Most people sense that happiness and freedom are linked, but only in an imperfect way. For instance, they may think the freedom to stop working and the ability to do anything one pleases will bring happiness. But even if that were the case, the problems of anger, regret, and the other negative feelings would remain. And it is not possible to experience negative emotions and happiness at the same time. Negative feelings are thieves that rob us of happiness.

Here is the paradox: when we seek freedom, we become prisoners, and when we seek self-discipline, we discover freedom. You see, when we seek the freedom to do as we please, we become the prisoners of our emotions. But when we seek the discipline to do what is best for us, we become free to achieve our dreams. Julie Andrews seems to agree, for she said, Some people regard discipline as a chore. For me, it is a kind of order that sets me free to fly.

Achieving our dreams, by the way, doesn’t guarantee our happiness, only freedom from negative emotions does. So, happiness is not about gaining, but about losing. For when we lose, give up, or release our negative feelings, we are really removing the sludge that covers and has buried the happiness that has always been within us. You see, you were happy as an infant. That is part of your nature; it cannot be removed. But it is often buried under a thick layer of sludge (negative emotions, beliefs, and attitude) which slowly accumulated as you were exposed to more and more toxic experiences.

Well, then, how do we make all the above points practical? How do we apply them to our lives? Let’s look at an actual example of a day in the life of Noel Higgins. I don’t know about you, but Noel likes to believe that Sunday is a day off from work, a day in which he can do anything he pleases. However, on this particular day, his conscience was reminding him that he should be preparing for a business presentation that he was scheduled to do in a few days. Being Sunday, he didn’t feel like working. But he understood it isn’t necessary to enjoy EVERYTHING we do. Enjoy it or not, we need to live up to our obligations. So, Noel packed his bags and headed for the library where he wouldn’t be distracted.

Despite not wanting to work, Noel was at the library doing just that. About two and a half hours later, he was growing restless and wondering if he should return home and continue working there. No, he thought, that idea is just a temptation to take a break, so he decided to refocus on the task at hand and get it done as soon as possible. Noel’s behaviour reminds me of something W. K. Hope said, Self-discipline is when your conscience tells you to do something and you don’t talk back. Noel got the message and didn’t talk back. As a result, five hours later, the job was done. Noel left the library with a broad grin on his face. While driving back home, he reflected on what happened. Here’s what he discovered:

1. It is within our power to do what we don’t want to. It is our responsibility, duty, or obligation that is important, not our feelings.

2. We cannot think of two things at the same time, so once we immerse ourselves in a task, that’s all we can think about. All thoughts about whether it is pleasant or not fade from our mind. And as we get involved with the task, it grows increasingly interesting.

3. Thus, the “pain” associated with doing something we don’t want to is short-lived. So, real effort is only needed in the beginning. What we need to remember is pain is never permanent. Besides, pain is nothing more than breaking the shell that imprisons us. Our freedom to succeed and get the most from life is worth the effort.

4. After finishing an important task that we didn’t feel like doing, there is a feeling of exhilaration. We feel proud of our accomplishment and delighted to learn we have the self-discipline to take charge of our life. Therefore, what we thought would be painful turns out to be pleasurable.

5. What’s more, as we experience this truth, we come to embrace discomfort because of the pleasure conquering it will bring. Not only pleasure, but power. For they who have mastered self-discipline can be, do, or have anything they want. A little effort is a small price to pay for the treasure of success. That’s why Leonardo Da Vinci (1452 ~ 1519) rejoiced by saying, “Oh Lord, thou givest us everything, at the price of an effort.

6. When we do what we don’t feel like doing because it needs to be done, we develop self-discipline and a strong sense of responsibility, two critical keys to success. As we experience victory after victory, we will grow in confidence, feel exuberant, and know what it truly means to be happy.

7. To avoid missing out on success, we mustn’t be tricked into running from responsibility and indulging in some fleeting pleasure. After all, if we were to do so, we will find the “pleasure” (such as watching TV rather than working on an important task) is pleasure in name only. For as we waste valuable time, we will be racked with guilt, greatly diminishing our “pleasure.” And whatever momentary pleasure we were to experience, it would only be followed later by stress and regret.

8. When we carefully consider these facts, we will discover that what we usually interpret as pleasurable ends up being painful, and what we first interpret as painful, turns out to be pleasurable. The lesson is, then, we have to think before we act, for the price of living irresponsibly and neglecting our duties is loss of happiness. On the other hand, the result of being self-disciplined and living up to our responsibilities is happiness.


American businessman, author, speaker, and philosopher, Jim Rohn said, “We must all suffer one of two things: the pain of discipline or the pain of regret or disappointment.” Which will it be for you? Finally, I will give the last word to the founder of Pennsylvania, William Penn (1644 ~ 1718): “No pain, no palm (award); no thorns, no throne; no gall, no glory; no cross, no crown.”