The reason why we hate having to sit in traffic, having to listen to loud noises outside our house, and having to wake up at 8 am everyday to go to work is because we can’t control it.
In a famous study, David Glass and Jerome Singer separated a group of people into two test groups and exposed each individual to loud bursts of random noises.
The difference between the two groups was that the individuals in one group were told they could stop the noise at any moment by pressing a button, but were asked not to press it unless they really had to.
None of the subjects who were given the option of pressing the button actually pressed it.
The belief that they had a sense of control over the situation and that they could stop the noises at any moment they pleased made the experience less stressful for them compared to the group of people who had no control.
Later when they gave each of the two groups puzzles to solve, they found that the group who felt they had control during the noise experiment were more persistent when it came to solving difficult puzzles, while the individuals from the group who had no sense of control gave up more easily.
Does having the feeling we can control our environment make us invulnerable to stress and its negative effects?
Yes it does.
Having a sense of control is even a major factor when it comes to life satisfaction and longevity.
According to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor Global Report 2013, entrepreneurs are the happiest people on the planet.
Whether they run a startup or an established business, entrepreneurs in all regions of the world had a higher well being than those who didn’t own a business.
In a paper titled “Life Satisfaction and Self-Employment: A Matching Approach,” Alex Coad and Martin Binder show that entrepreneurs enjoyed a significantly higher life satisfaction than people who were in wage employment.
One of the reasons why this is, is because entrepreneurs have more day to day control over the timing and rate of their workload compared to employees who have no control.
It’s as if entrepreneurs are given a “button” to stop the “noises” of their lives whenever they want, while employees just have to sit there and listen to the noise.
Having a lack of control may explain why so many people who work a job feel unhappy.
According to Deloitte’s Shift Index Survey, 80% of people are dissatisfied with what they do for a living.
This means if you hate your boss, if you hate the people you work with or you’d rather work on your own time, then starting a business may be your key to a more satisfying life.
Coad and Binder say,
“In our analysis we found that individuals moving from regular employment into self employment … experience a positive and significant increase in life satisfaction, that actually increases from the first year of self-employment to the second.”
Even if you don’t want to be an entrepreneur, you still need to learn to have control over certain aspects of your life. If you say yes to everything that’s presented to you then eventually you’ll become overwhelmed by tasks and responsibilities that you’ll feel you can’t get out of. Instead of looking for ways to increase your sense of control, you’ll just feel overwhelmed by the amount of work you have to do, which will negatively affect your happiness, life satisfaction, well-being and even longevity.
Feeling you have control over your life is a necessity if you want to live a happy and fulfilling life.