Why Losing Control Can Make You Happier

We all have a deep-seated drive to feel in control. But taking it too far can make you miserable.

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Human beings have a deep-seated desire for certainty and control.

Several studies show this need serves at least two important purposes. First, it helps us believe that we can shape outcomes and events to our liking. That is, the more in control we feel, the more efficacious we feel about achieving the outcomes we desire, and this sense of competence boosts well-being.

Control also feels good because it makes us believe that we aren’t under someone else’s control. In one study of an old-age home, researchers gave the members of one group control over which plant to grow in their room and which movies to watch. The other group was denied that control. In the eighteen-month period that followed, the death rate of the second group was double that of the first.

That’s why we’re driven to seek control. Indeed, studies show that those with a higher need for control generally set loftier goals and also tend to achieve more. But can it go too far? Can seeking control undermine happiness? The answer, it turns out, is yes. Seeking control is a good thing—but only up to a point. Beyond…