Giving Thanks

Resolutions: Gratitude, Pride, and Compassion

This young, new year marks a time of resolutions for many people. And many of those resolutions involve health and weight. But keeping them is not so easy. Psychology professor David DeSteno tells us that “willpower” won’t do it. He says that the “only way to keep your resolutions” is to cultivate gratitude, pride, and compassion.

The Limits of Self-Control

For a long time now, psychologists have pointed to willpower as having serious limits. Exerting self control, says Roy Baumeister, depends on a limited resource. Distract someone with too many choices and they will start choosing for short term gratification instead of long-term goals. That cookie looks much better than spinach when you’re stressed.

Much research and debate is ongoing about self-control and its limits. But regardless of that debate, it remains clear that staying resolute on specific behavioral goals throughout the year is a considerable challenge. By the end of the year, people will have given up on 90 percent of their resolutions.

The Benefits of Gratitude, Pride, and Compassion

To bolster the likelihood of successful resolutions, DeSteno suggests that gratitude, pride, and compassion can help. He argues relying exclusively upon rational control over choices can be exhausting. Instead, he says that social emotions have a role to play in helping us to make better decisions more consistently.

The drive for immediate gratification is less when a person feels gratitude about other things, according to DeStano. Authentic pride (as opposed to boastful pride) can have a similar benefit. And also, compassion can increase a person’s willingness to pursue long-term goals.

The bottom line here is that beating yourself up will not equip you for meeting longer-term goals for health. But more positive emotions might. Taking pride in small accomplishments along the way can help. Compassion for others and gratitude for one’s own blessings are fuel for the road ahead.

Click here to read more from DeStano and here for information about his forthcoming book on the subject.

Giving Thanks, Painting by Horace Pippin / WikiArt

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January 5, 2018

2 Responses to “Resolutions: Gratitude, Pride, and Compassion”

  1. January 08, 2018 at 8:11 am, John DiTraglia said:

    I don’t know this sounds a little touchy feely unscientific unquantifiable…

    • January 08, 2018 at 10:04 am, Ted said:

      An important concern, John. You’ll find plenty of questionable research mixed in with some rigorous studies. Discernment is important.