Instant Gratification-The Trap That Avoids Building Real Wealth

By Julian Burke in Awareness on January 3rd, 2010 / 4 Comments

Instant gratification is wanting everything now, and its converse is deferred gratification. Low impulse control provides short term satisfaction but causes long term chaos, imbalance, and personal failure, while high impulse control causes short term dissatisfaction but provides long term order, balance, and personal success.

Here are some classic examples of how the impulse of instant gratification works in real life:

- If you are seeking a relationship, you want it to unfold as magically as in the movies, and you’re impatient about building rapport and getting to know someone. Beguiled by Hollywood, you believe that romance is as simple as locking eyes across the room, talking breathlessly, and effortlessly plunging into a whirlwind of pleasurable experiences.

- If you are looking for prosperity, you want a complete business-in-a-box that tells you how to get rich quick, and you’re impatient about studying the many facets of business and the rules of sound money management.

- If you are not well, you want medication or surgery that will provide an instant cure so that you can get back to your normal life, and you’re impatient about carefully selecting the foods you eat, reducing your stress levels, and considering a holistic exercise routine.

- If you are worried about signs of aging, you may consider a botox injection to get firm skin and instant youth, and you’re too impatient to bother learning the facts about botox–thus, failing to discover that it is a botulinum toxin, a complex protein produced by a bacteria whose effect is as toxic as food poisoning.

- If you believe in the value of instant gratification, you believe that faster is better, and you want fast food, fast technology, fast education, and fast service. It can’t be much good, you reason, if it’s slow. You equate slow with inefficiency.

Overstimulated By Technology
Partially to blame for the cult of instant gratification is technology, in particular the technology of mass communication and rapid transportation.

Technology was supposed to make life easier. With more labor saving devices, we were supposed to have more time, not less. What technology has done is make us addicted to stimulation. People feel an urgent need to be dialing someone on their cell phone instead of merely driving or walking down the street. Faxes and email make ordinary mail into snail mail. Everything is faster, not only digital connectivity, but how fast we communicate and how fast we travel. We constantly hope to do more in less time.

Hollywood, The Entertainment Industry And Role Modeling
Although amplified by technology, the impulse of instant gratification has always been a part of human nature. In the past it used to be considered a character weakness, but today it is considered a sign of personal efficiency.

Nowadays, people who subscribe to instant gratification are often, fast-talkers, fast-thinkers, and fast-movers. They idealize a fast life. They believe that they are modern people, hip to technology, savvy, cosmopolitan. Even lighting up a cigarette is considered too time-consuming. Why use a match when you can use a lighter?

The modern self-image owes a lot to the stereotypes of Hollywood and the entertainment industry, which has created a subliminal pattern of mass role modeling. In Hollywood, for example, heroes and heroines glorify the hyped-up personality and extol the virtues of a volatile lifestyle.

The average viewer is primed for five times the action than previous generations of movie-goers. Why, settle for a few fist fights as in the old Westerns when your new screen hero can blow up a fleet of police cars, cause multiple car pileups and ruin numerous lives in the same time frame? Blockbusters are not built on people simply talking and behaving normally. Celluloid adventures without massive disasters are no adventures at all.

A Change In Perspective

In the earlier part of this century, according to Sigmund Freud‘s Theory of Personality, the urge of instant gratification was considered a symptom of poor impulse control, an expression of weak ego boundaries.

Since the superego represented the principle of morality, the ego the principle of reality, and the id the principle of pleasure, an inability to delay gratification was the result of a reckless id that could not be controlled by the ego or the superego.

Today, these ideas are considered quaint. Life is not about staying balanced but about getting the most satisfaction in the shortest amount of time.

The Brain And Instant Gratification
Besides the pervasive influence of digital technology and the entertainment industry, Neurobiologists, scientists interested in learning how the brain and nervous system work, have discovered some interesting things about how low impulse control often starts in childhood.

One of these findings is the effects of drugs and alcohol on children.

Due to the stress of modern life, women tend to drink more alcohol than during previous generations. In the United States, 15 percent of women admitted in a survey that they drank alcohol, and of that number, 30 percent admitted that they drank during pregnancy. Drinking during pregnancy causes harm to the embryo.

The alcohol crosses the barrier of the placenta and damages the growing brain of the embryo. Many children are born with mental health problems due to alcohol ingestion in the womb, a condition called fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS). Children with FAS are often impatient and find delayed gratification almost impossible. However, alcohol is only one cause of stunted mental development in babies.

Drugs, ingested by pregnant mothers, both prescriptive and recreational, have also created havoc on the brain and nervous system of children. The cumulative effect, culturally, of drug and alcohol abuse by pregnant mothers has been a new generation of children less equipped to handle the stresses of modern life and more inclined to seek instant gratification whenever they can.

Another discovery by neurobiologists is that children who are able to demonstrate delayed gratification are more intelligent than those who demand instant gratification.

One study, conducted during the 1960s, has been a landmark in showing the correlation between delayed gratification and intelligence. It has been called the marshmallow experiment.

Walter Mischel, a researcher at Stanford University, worked with a test group of four year old children. He offered each one a marshmallow, but promised another one if the child could wait for twenty minutes before eating it. Some waited, others did not. The researchers kept track of the children into adolescence and found that those who had the capacity for delayed gratification scored about 210 points higher in the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT).

Exploitation Of Instant Gratification By Industry
In any modern city, industrial interests, wishing to promote more wealth through consumerism fully exploit low impulse control.

In any city, billboards, slogans, banners, and shop signs assault the innocent pedestrian. The invisible fingers of the market manipulators are forever seeking to stimulate trivial desires and separate consumers from their hard-earned money, even enticing them to spend much more than they have through a credit system.

If people have a tendency to consume too many soft drinks, eat too many fast meals, take too many medications, and buy too many things that they simply don’t not need for their well-being, it’s because their sense of instant gratification is perpetually exploited. Neon signs, repetitive trigger words, colorful logos, and jingles influence consumers. This assault comes from gigantic billboards and electronic signs as well as from radios, commercials, computers, and print ads.

This exploitation of a need for instant gratification, does more harm than merely empty bank accounts. All kinds of aberrant behavior arises from distraught people, including domestic abuse, suicide, and criminal activity to compensate for cash shortages.

Instant Gratification And Emotional Intelligence
Daniel Goleman, the creator of the concept of emotional intelligence, believes that a person can handle difficult life situations well if they have emotional maturity – because they can clearly think about things, make the best decisions, and take the right action.

Positive emotions create positive thoughts and behaviors, and this is high emotional intelligence. Negative emotions, likewise, create negative thoughts and behaviors, and this is low emotional intelligence.

Emotions, triggered by the consequences of dealing with what happens after satisfying a moment of instant gratification, usually escalate problems. The fleeting happiness of consumption is followed by numerous negative emotions, spiraling from anger to despair

After dissipating income, people feel frustrated, and frustration leads to feelings of anger, and anger leads to acts of destruction, either through self-sabotage or lashing out at other people.

It is difficult to make sound decisions about self-worth, discipline, and proactive action in the grip of negative emotions. Those who feel negative emotions precipitate negative experiences for themselves and other people.

The higher a person‘s need for instant gratification, the lower their emotional intelligence.

How The Money System Has Changed And How To Think Long Term
The global recession is a symptom of how the money system has changed. The traditional money system is causing the human race to run out of resources, from fuel to food.

People need meaningful occupations. They also need to live within their means, avoiding irresponsible consumer spending. By reducing both national and personal debt, and by working on building goods and services of tangible value, it is possible to change for the better.

Although the modern world has been created by the ingenuity of generations of hard working people, few modern people have the patience to study, practice, and perfect skills. Young people want to have in a decade the level of wealth it took their parents a lifetime to acquire. This has resulted in people taking all sorts of economic shortcuts, including fraudulent practices in corporate boardrooms that affect stock exchanges.

Understanding the value of change, how do human beings turn their back on a culture of instant gratification that is causing havoc with the money system across the world?

How Thinking Long Term Can Lead To More Success For All
The most startling solution to date has come from the city of São Paulo. According to Business Week, in June, 2007, Brazilian populist mayor, Gilberto Kassab, did something unprecedented in the history of the modern world: he banned all advertising in São Paulo–making it the first city in the world to say no to advertising.

Although this sounds like a myth perpetuated by the radical magazine, Adbusters, a glossy American magazine that details how advertising perpetually feeds the neurosis of instant gratification, in São Paulo, Brazil, this dream has become the new reality.

The clean city laws brought down eight thousand billboards. A Brazilian can walk through the city streets without encountering manipulative messages from posters, flyers, billboards, and advertising on buses and trains.

Populist writer Roberto Pompeu de Toledo hailed it as “a rare victory of the public interest over private, of order over disorder, aesthetics over ugliness, of cleanliness over trash.”

The president of the city council, Roberto Tripoli, said, “What we are aiming for is a complete change of culture. Yes, some people are going to have to pay a price but things were out of hand and the population has made it clear that it wants this.”

Is Instant Gratification Short-circuiting Civilization Itself?
While it may seem rather dramatic to blame the ills of the world on something as simple as instant gratification, reviewing the story of how mass communication and transport technology, the sublime influence of Hollywood and the entertainment industry, the neurological problems caused by drug and alcohol on babies, and the brainwashing nature of modern advertising, the impulse of instant gratification does seem to heavily contribute to the foundations of reckless living on this planet.

With the virulence of commercialism reduced, people have a chance of establishing meaningful personal and cultural goals, spending more time getting to know each other better, and regaining an emotional maturity that will lead to long term benefits, like ideas on how to allocate resources so that everyone in the world can meet their basic needs for shelter, food, and drinkable water.

Long term success for all is only possible when intelligent thinking, feeling, and behavior is reintroduced to the world. Instant gratification is a trap that avoids building real wealth.

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