Hedonism has major role in happiness, but study warns there's a limit

The focus on long-term goals at the expense of temporary pleasure is largely associated with happiness over the course of one's life, but it may not be the only factor that improves one's sense of wellbeing. A new study argues that hedonism has an underappreciated role in one's sense of happiness, with momentary indulgences — even if they counter long-term goals — contributing significantly to a happy life.

Hedonism, in the most technical sense, simply means indulging in something that is pleasurable to the person partaking in the activity. This can include small short-term activities, such as eating a chocolate bar, staying up late to watch a movie, or spending a day lying in bed. These activities may, however, represent a lapse of self-control when viewed from the standpoint of long-term goals.

Eating a chocolate bar may, for example, sabotage one's desire to lose weight, lending to the idea that momentary hedonism at the expense of self-control will ultimately lead to an unhappy life. That's not the case, however, according to a new study from the University of Zurich, which states plainly that, "Hedonism leads to happiness."

Self-control remains important, of course, but it is not the sole aspect of happiness, the study argues. One example is provided: someone focused on long-term goals at the expense of momentary pleasure may be unable to relax or benefit from those present-moment bits of happiness, resulting in anxiety and depression.

However, the study notes that long-term goals and self-control are also important for a happy life — that excessively partaking in hedonistic activity without regard for the future can be just as harmful as obsessively focusing on the long-term at the expense of enjoying the present moment.

The researchers suggest that putting limits on one's moments of pleasure, as well as planning out these activities ahead of time, may be effective for getting the benefits from these moments without compromising long-term goals or happiness.