It is an inherent drive among humans to seek pleasure and to avoid pain. As it is, having our desires granted instantly is not necessarily a bad thing. However, anticipating quick-fix solutions in an age where almost all facets of our lifestyle are integrated digitally can fuel irrational, impulsive behaviors that can be detrimental in the long term. 

We live in a society where there’s always too little time and too many things to do. That is very ironic in the sense that for the past decades, businesses have been developing ways in delivering their services to adhere to the growingly impatient consumers. From food to real estate, almost everything can be accessed and bought instantly. This is in no small part of social media and online retail platforms. One of the reasons why social media and online shopping can be addictive is not always about getting the product or information that you want. It is the habit-inducing activity of constantly discovering something new and the pleasure you experience even before receiving the actual reward. This is one of the reasons why some people take pleasure in the act of shopping more than the actual consumption of what they bought. The dangers of this behavior come when a person decides to consciously overvalue instant gratification, distracting them from the importance of their long-term, meaningful goals. Being constantly distracted from meaningful conversations with the people around you and dipping into your savings to indulge in your self-prescribed “retail therapy” can be negligible behaviors, that when taken to the extreme, can also be challenging behaviors to break and lead to destructive outcomes. 

Understanding why activities that enable instant gratification is addicting can help manage impulsive behavior. Dopamine is produced by the brain whenever our body associates activity with pleasure. It is the same chemical produced by our brain that motivates us in doing certain activities such as sleeping, eating, sex, and all reward-seeking behaviors. However, according to Arif Hamid, a psychology professor from the University of Michigan, dopamine is not necessarily the “pleasure chemical.” Rather it is closer to a “motivator chemical” that induces our brain to associate an activity’s significance towards achieving a reward. It influences our decision-making and habits as it teaches our body which actions would lead to a certain type of reward. 

Managing impulsive behavior can primarily be addressed by understanding long-term consequences. The value of delayed gratification can only be fully grasped once a person understands the realities of short-lived pleasures and the significance of meaningful long-term life decisions. Noah Shamosh and Jeremy Gray from Yale University conducted a study observing the brain activity of 103 healthy adult participants in terms of self-control in the context of financial rewards; a smaller reward that they would receive immediately versus a larger reward that would be received at a later time. They found out that the individuals that scored higher in their intelligence tests tend to have better self-control than those who scored lower. Similar variables have been well observed in other studies as well, correlating self-control to higher-order thinking. The research concluded by stating that understanding the factors that influence self-control can help us better understand behaviors in maintaining physical and mental health. 

For a lot of people, long-term goals might be too intimidating to be considered as an attainable reality. For instance, aspiring to have a healthier body can be daunting for some people because there is an inherent expectation to see results right away. That’s why people are enamored by fad diets that can sometimes be harmful instead of helpful. Being realistic with long term-expectations and understanding one’s limits are very important aspects of delayed gratification. Spending 2-hours a day in the gym might not be realistic for a lot of people, but spending at least 30-minutes of exercise might not be too much to ask for. 

There’s nothing wrong with experiencing pleasures in life in a timely manner. Rewarding oneself and having a break from time to time is vital in maintaining a healthy lifestyle. It’s a matter of having the patience and maturity in understanding that not all needs nor wants should be, and can be achieved right away.

References

https://news.umich.edu/dopamine-new-theory-integrates-its-role-in-learning-motivation/

Frontiers | The Motivational Aspect of Children’s Delayed Gratification: Values and Decision Making in Middle Childhood | Psychology (frontiersin.org)

Is Delayed Gratification Linked To Our Intelligence? (thescienceofpersuasion.com)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ronald is a marketing communication specialist and a TEFL certified online educator. He enjoys reading novels and writing as a freelancer. He has an undergraduate degree in Organizational Communication and a master’s degree in Marketing Communication. He has also worked in the academe as a lecturer and consultant in the fields of Marketing and Communication Studies.