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The Dark Side Of Instant Gratification

We are an instantly gratified bunch of people.

We want what we want when we want it. And for the most part, we usually get it.

With a click of a mouse we can buy an outfit we have been eyeing off, without even getting off the couch. We can watch the next episode of our favourite TV show without having to wait a whole excruciating week. We can order a pizza and get it delivered straight away. We can even swipe ourselves a relationship, or a bit of something else.

Instant gratification is the desire to experience pleasure without delay. We want something, and we are going to get it now. As human beings we are wired to move towards pleasure and avoid pain, but even waiting for what we want has become painful in itself. The gruelling ten-second adverts before the YouTube videos are almost too hard to bare.

As great as getting what you want quickly sounds (pffft, who wants to unnecessarily wait for food) there’s a dark side to immediacy. Like the frustration that arises when we can’t get every single thing straight away. Or even worse, sometimes what we thought we immediately wanted was not actually the best for us in the long term.

You might find that delaying your gratification in the future is better for you. Having a little patience and using your willpower can pay off.

In the late 1960s, a small test of willpower was undertaken on hundreds of four-year-olds. The kids were placed in a room with a marshmallow in front of them and told they could either eat the treat now, or, if they could wait for 15 minutes, they could have two marshmallows. Oh the dilemma.

Most children were able to wait, but many failed to resist. Some held out for a while before giving in. The most successful at resisting the marshmallow temptation distracted themselves from the pain of waiting by fiddling around and trying to avert the lolly in front of them. They were able to delay gratification for the allocated time. Two marshmallows coming their way.

The interesting thing here is that follow-up studies on the same kids found that those who were able to delay gratification were less likely to have problems with behaviour, drug addiction or obesity by the time they were adolescents. Marshmallow resisters also scored better in their final high school exams.

All of us have to make decisions like this on a daily basis, and most of us probably aren’t aware of it.

For those of us who are instant-gratifiers, it might help to start looking at the big picture. Our inability to look beyond the now blind-sights us from something that may be better for us. If we delay our gratification a little more and practice using our willpower, better things may come.

One marshmallow now, or wait and be better off later?

Is it best to avoid conflict with our child and give in to what they want or stand firm on what we need them to do? Push through the pain of listening to their complaining, get them to do their chores, and we might get better adults as a result.

Is it better to wait for ‘the one’ or go out with the not-quite-right person? Is it better to wait to go out and finish the report that is due or fret about not doing it all weekend whilst you are out? Is it better for us to take an hour preparing and cooking a healthier meal for ourself or get a quick artery-clogging meal delivered to our door?

We all know the answer to these.

When you think about it, you will find that waiting is often better for you.

Two marshmallows are always better than one.


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