Willpower is often viewed as the key to success, but social emotions — gratitude, compassion and pride — may actually be better at helping us achieve our goals, according to Northeastern University psychology professor David DeSteno, author of the new book Emotional Success.

“The ability to value the future more than the present, to persevere, and to face temptation and delay gratification is an essential ingredient in success,” DeSteno told The Atlantic.

The problem with willpower is that it’s “biased” and “effortful,” DeSteno said — making it difficult to keep your attention on a task that you don’t want to do.

Gratitude, compassion and pride are better, he said, because they naturally encourage self-control by helping us build cooperative relationships and making it easier for us to focus on future rewards.

“What you’re basically doing when you cooperate, is you’re accepting some sacrifice in the moment, not earning as much as you could, or helping somebody else move on a day you don’t really want to help them,” DeSteno said, noting these emotions are also associated with better sleep, better immune response and lower heart rate.

To improve our ability to harness gratitude, compassion and pride, DeSteno suggests keeping a daily gratitude journal, starting a meditation practice, writing letters to your future self to promote self-compassion and taking pride in all the little steps that propel you closer to your end goal.

Read more on The Atlantic


  • Josephine Chu

    Thrive Global Contributor

    Josephine is a graduate of Cornell University where she studied psychology and film. She was previously a content intern at Thrive Global.