The Huffington Post:
Did Oscar Wilde give the best psychological advice on New Year’s Resolutions? These usually involve redoubled, yet fruitless, efforts to resist the temptation you succumbed to last year, so in The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891), Wilde declared, “The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it. Resist it, and your soul grows sick with longing for the things it has forbidden to itself.”
William James, an eminent 20th Century psychologist, illustrates the power of desire in an anecdote from his chapter on will in the The Principles of Psychology (1890); An alcoholic was put into an almshouse nearby, but his cravings resulted in various elaborate schemes to get a drink, which had all failed. Then: “He went into the wood-yard of the establishment, placed one hand upon the block, and with an axe in the other struck it off at a single blow. With the stump raised and streaming he ran into the house and cried, ‘Get some rum! get some rum! My hand is off!’ In the confusion and bustle of the occasion a bowl of rum was brought, into which he plunged the bleeding member of his body, then raising the bowl to his mouth, drank freely, and exultingly exclaimed, ‘Now I am satisfied.'”
James also tells of another alcoholic undergoing treatment whose cravings led him to drink from the anatomy jars containing pathology specimens.
William James’ and Oscar Wilde’s sage arguments on how desire normally controls us, anticipates a key finding in modern psychological research; superior self-control has recently been shown an extremely powerful feature of personality, predicting success and happiness more reliably into the future, than possibly any other trait.
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