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3 Best Practices for Future Happiness

An Interview with David DeSteno

Painting of flowers and bird

Festiva Maxima by Jessica Watts

“We all want our future self to be happy, so we ask: ‘What can I do to relieve this person’s suffering?’

Whether it’s improving your health, building a career, or learning to play the piano, the key to success and happiness is the ability to delay gratification. However, the traditional approaches to practicing this kind of self-control—like cultivating willpower—are not the most effective strategies, says David DeSteno PhD, a professor of psychology at Northeastern University and fellow of the American Psychological Association. In his new book, Emotional Success: The Power of Gratitude, Compassion, and Pride, Dr. DeSteno argues that our prosocial emotions evolved specifically to help us resist immediate temptations in order to build the skills and character that help us succeed. We recently spoke with him about the limitations of willpower, how cultivating prosocial emotions can help us reach our goals, and ways to bring our future selves into our social circle. S&H: You’ve written that “our notion of how self-control works is flawed.” How so? David DeSteno: In order to reach our goals—whether it’s the ability to save money, eat healthy, or commit to a spiritual path—it’s goi …

About the Author

Sam Mowe is a writer living in Portland, Oregon. His interviews have also appeared in Tricycle: The Buddhist Review, and The...

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