Why Instant Gratification Is Ruining Your Chance at Happiness, And How to Fix It

“…They were also better at managing stress, planning, had better self-control, responded to reason, and could concentrate better and ignore distractions. This indicates that delaying gratification can have some positive effects.”

We live in a culture where it seems everyone lives in a state of now. They want what they want, when they want it – and they don’t want to wait for it. Instant gratification touches every part of our lives. All too often we will the grab the immediate reward, even if it is smaller and offers less than the delayed reward. Waiting isn’t an option.

Some chalk this up to the impulsivity of youth, while others are afraid that the delayed reward may never come and they’ll miss out completely. Still others act strictly on out of control emotions or they seek the immediate reward because the need itself is immediate. Whatever the case, instant gratification is extremely prevalent these days. It may not seem like big deal, but it is.

What exactly is instant gratification?

Instant gratification is the desire or need to gain fulfillment or pleasure without any delay. It is directly tied to impulsivity and is characterized by a “bird in the hand” attitude. In other words, take the $5 being offered today instead of waiting for the $50 tomorrow.

A common illustration is texting while driving. You’re communicating with a friend or family member before you hop into the car. You start driving and they text something you’re just dying to respond to. Rather than take the safe route and wait until you’re parked to respond, you decide that you just HAVE to get it off your chest right now, an act which puts yourself and others in danger no matter how great you think you are at multi-tasking.

It boils down to not being willing to wait for the better things that are coming and opting instead for the inferior rewards of right now.

What’s so terrible about immediate rewards?

Not all immediate rewards are necessarily bad. For instance, if you are selling your home you may jump on an offer because you are uncertain about the housing market, whether prices will increase or plummet. In such cases, that might work for you. However, for the most part, when you are always choosing instant gratification, you are cheating yourself out of things that are better for you. It limits your ability to understand or conceptualize your best course of action. When you tamp down on your impulsivity, you open the door for better, healthier things to come your way.

In the 1960s, psychologist Walter Mischel, PhD, conducted a series of experiments that are now known informally as the “Marshmallow test.” Mischel would offer a young child one marshmallow, but if they were willing to wait, he told them they would get two. He followed those children as they grew up, and when they were teenagers, he found that those who were willing to wait scored higher on the SAT than those who wouldn’t wait. They were also better at managing stress, planning, had better self-control, responded to reason, and could concentrate better and ignore distractions. This indicates that delaying gratification can have some positive effects.

Later in life, when those children were 30 and 40 years old, they still had many of the same traits including more self worth and higher self esteem. They also had lower rates of depression, divorce, drug use, and obesity. And they still exhibited patience.

Typically, those who delay gratification are happier and more successful in both their personal and professional lives.

Learning to wait

Delay isn’t easy if you are used to immediate rewards. Learning to be patient can be extremely frustrating. It can also be infinitely rewarding. Incorporate delay into your life by doing this every day.

1. Practice mindfulness in every action. Be deliberate and aware of what you are doing and experiencing.

2. Seek out experiences. Look for things that engage you, especially if they connect you to others.

3. Recall poor judgment outcomes from choosing instant gratification.

4. Keep a journal. Record your thoughts and resulting actions, especially as they pertain to delayed or immediate rewards.

Good things really do tend to come to those who wait.

Stephanie Mayberry

Stephanie Mayberry

Stephanie is a freelance writer who has written for a variety of publications. In her spare time she enjoys photography, cooking, and being an advocate for issues from autism to domestic violence. Find her at http://StephanieMayberry.com
Stephanie Mayberry
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