Life in the west is such that in many situations we now expect instant gratification. According to Wikipedia,
Delayed gratification, or deferred gratification, is the ability to resist the temptation for an immediate reward and wait for a later reward. Generally, delayed gratification is associated with resisting a smaller but more immediate reward in order to receive a larger or more enduring reward later.
Meryl Streep is quoted on brainyquote.com as saying
Instant gratification is not soon enough.
It never is if we live that way. Our children have grown up in a world where they can contact someone instantly on a mobile phone, communicate with friends or family the other side of the world on Skype or by e-mail, and send pictures by phone or e-mail or on social media while the events they are attending are happening. Food can be almost instant and books can be downloaded onto tablets without even waiting for the postman or going to the shops, but it is possible that it won’t help them when they are older.
There is an account of an interesting study into delaying gratification in children. You can read it here, where children were put in the room with a biscuit and told that they would receive two biscuits when the researcher returned if they didn’t eat the one in the room. The children were variable in their results, but further study showed that the children with the will power to delay gratification also did better at school and in tests. By teaching our children to wait, we are standing them in good stead for life and they are learning the joy of working or sacrificing for something they really want.
We need to learn to give up one thing in order to have another, and conversely, we need to learn to say yes to certain things so that we can have others. A lot of young people are having to say yes to unpaid work in order to gain the experience needed to get paid jobs, and to say yes to part-time work in order to prove themselves and get offered full-time work. It isn’t ideal, it isn’t what they really want, but it is a means to an end. As last week’s blog said, we need to learn to prioritize. When we know what we want in life, it is easier to give up those things that don’t matter to us.
In recent years, students have had to accept that their education will cost them now in university fees, but hopefully they will be more financially secure in the future if they invest. It isn’t always true, but they stand a better chance.
There are ways of handling the desires and impulses. Distraction was one method that some of the children used on themselves in the study above. Mindfulness can help too. When we desperately want something now, we can concentrate on appreciating what we already have. We have a massive problem with obesity in this country and food is readily available at all times of day. We no longer have to wait for a meal time; we can snack all day long if we want to. If we tend to buy everything when we think we want it, we can try listing the things we want rather than impulse buying.Each of us will have different areas of instant gratification in our lives and the key to learning to overcome is in recognising our own weaknesses. To some extent it is a matter of mastering our own emotions, then, as Judith Wright said, we may find that
As we get past our superficial material wants and instant gratification we connect to a deeper part of ourselves, as well as to others, and the universe.