The powerful force of wanting something NOW has become every individual’s desire. This force is known as Instant Gratification.
There is a piece of chocolate in front of you, luring you to eat it right now. But, if you wait for another hour, you will get the entire bar of chocolate. What would you do? The way your mind works, you would grab that piece of chocolate to satisfy your needs. Even though there was a big reward for you in the near future, your mind wanted to experience the short-lived joy NOW and not LATER.
The Psychology of Instant Gratification
A majority of us do not want to think, wait or ponder on the future and its uncertain outcome and choose instant gratification instead.
Psychologically most humans act upon the “pleasure principle.” As per Sigmund Freud’s Psychoanalytic Theory of Personality – Pleasure principle is the driving force of the “id” that is the most basic part of ourselves and goes hand in hand with ‘ego’. It strives and pushes humans to satisfy their needs, wants, and urges for short-term happiness.
It is the brain who could be called the culprit for instant rewards. As per studies conducted by researchers from 4 prestigious universities student volunteers from Princeton University were asked to think about the delayed rewards while they were observed under fMRI (Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging). The scan shows the parts of your brain active at all points of time. The students were given a choice of Amazon Gift Cards valued from $5 – $50 or even higher amounts provided they waited for 2 to 6 weeks. The students who chose immediate awards were found to have the emotional part of their brain activated as compared to the ones who chose delayed gratification.
Thus, the emotional brain is directly responsible for impulsive choices of short-term happiness. Moreover, it is found that our brain automatically takes over instant gratification for instant rewards.
We have seen Behavior patterns leading to Instant Gratification
5 STAGES of Instant Gratification BEHAVIOR:
1: Compelling urge
2: Failing to resist the urge
3: High sense of arousal
4: Succumbing to the urge for short-lived relief
5: Feelings of guilt after instant gratification
The Psychology behind Addiction and Instant Gratification
Impulsive Behavior and Instant Gratification are results of wanting to get immediate results leading to addictions. These kinds of behavior patterns lead to reckless decisions and unpredictable consequences. Hastily taken decisions lead to adverse effects such as drugs or alcohol addiction, a rise in Adolescent Sex Rate, Depression, and even Suicides. For instance, addiction to computer games (being violent in nature) make the reflexes of players more tuned to impulsive behavior.
For instance, in the case of Drug Addiction, the addicts have a single-mindedness about instant gratification – feeling the urgency to consume drug doses. As per Psychologist Loewenstein, this is due to the tendency of the brain to release ‘dopamine’ also called a ‘happy hormone’ the moment it gets satiated by short-term choices. The ‘lack of dopamine’ causes the urge or craving for drugs addicts.
Loewenstein, further adds that psychological cues trigger dopamine-related circuits in the brain. The cues to impulsive actions are essentially emotional reactions like touch, taste, sound or sight to achieve a pleasurable object.
It is seen that adolescents suffering from severe depression have a higher probability of turning to alcohol, gambling, sexual abuse or drugs. It is mainly to make their brains go numb in order to stop feeling the negative emotions or suffering they cannot handle otherwise. The core reason for this kind of behavior is the need to get instant gratification and not getting enough attention. Their brains crave for that ‘dopamine’ release they get used to by falling prey to these vices.
Alcohol Consumption alone causes approximately 5,000 adolescents under the age of 21 to die each year. Alcohol addiction is due to many reasons like performance pressure, peer pressure or getting bullied. However, the biggest reasons that stand out are seeking instant gratification and attention.
As per behavioral observations measured in the lab making impulsive (Seeking Instant Gratification), non-advantageous choices in life can lead to adverse, painful life events. As per Kelly Schochet, & Landry, 2004; Steinberg, 2008: “A host of neuro-biological and social changes occur during adolescence, increasing impulsivity and dysregulation of behavior relative to both child and adult developmental periods.”
A study was conducted to explore the performance on measures of delayed reward and impulsivity among girls with multiple suicide attempts. It was found – “Impulsivity is an important component of theories of suicidal behavior. It appears to be an important feature distinguishing single from multiple attempters.” There was an observed rise in impulsivity (Due to instant gratification) among groups who attempted suicide multiple times. The groups reflect a “trait-dependent influence of impulsivity on suicide attempts”.
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Serotonin Dysfunction and Depression: Serotonin Dysfunction is a huge reason for instant gratification leading to impulsive behavior. While dopamine modulates thought, anxiety, and mood, respectively. Serotonin is a stabilizing agent, which assists in returning the mind to its homeostatic set point.
Mann, Waternaux, Haas & Malone, 1999 suggests; serotonin dysfunction acts to increase impulsivity; when this occurs in conjunction with stress and symptoms of psychological distress (i.e. depression, hopelessness), suicide attempts are more likely to occur. Thus, depression is mainly due to a lack of serotonin and leads to an imbalanced mind – not being able to delay gratification.
How Shifting from Instant to Delayed Gratification helps achieve – “Long Term Happiness”
The shift takes place from Instant Gratification to Delayed Gratification as you care about others above your selfish desires. As per James T Bawden’s study in Psychology when you have compassion and care for the needs of others you tend to keep your selfish desires aside. It results in experiencing long term happiness. It is the Joy of Giving known to trigger our brain to release happy hormones called dopamine.
For example, the urge to indulge in a high-calorie treat instead of a healthy snack and expecting to stay fit. Instead, it leaves you feeling low on confidence and self-love. Whereas when you delay gratification, you feel healthy and high on confidence, you tend to love yourself more because you know this is good for you in the long run. Therefore delayed gratification helps you find long-term happiness.
The Relationship between Will Power and Instant Gratification
Did you know that lack of willpower also results in instant gratification? Studies show that humans with high will-power are more capable of regulating behavioral, emotional and attention impulses to achieve long-term goals. This is in comparison to more impulsive humans.
Author of “The Willpower Instinct” and Psychologist Kelly McGonigal refers to lack of will power as “I won’t power.”
According to her, saying “no” is just one part of willpower. But the other part of willpower is “saying yes” to the things you know will lead you to your goals. It’s the ability to resist short-term temptations in order to achieve long-term goals and satisfaction. We spend all our will-power on one thing like counting our calories and are left with nothing when it comes to spending time with our family and children.
People with greater will power are happier, wealthier, healthier and satisfied in their relationships.
“Willpower is the key to success. Successful people strive no matter what they feel by applying their will to overcome apathy, doubt or fear.” – Dan Millman
The Emotional and Logical Sides of the brain
Our brain has two opposite sides – one associated with emotions and the other with logic and reasoning. It is very obvious that the emotional part of our brain responds to instant gratification. For example, given the choice between watching Netflix now and studying later, the very obvious reaction or choice your brain will make is choosing Netflix.
However, the logical part of your brain will reason with you and tell you to choose to read or research as it is good for your long-term mental growth and career opportunities. Both the parts of your brain are in a constant battle with each other. So, who do think wins the battle? If you make choices with impulse behaviour, the emotional part lets you watch that Series.
The emotional part of our brain does not envision the future and submits to short-lived happiness. Whereas the logical part of the brain foresees the future consequences caused by the current actions, an observation made by Laibson, an economist at Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences.
Emotional Brain – will want to spend all the money on shopping.
Logical Brain – however, the logical brain will make you realize to invest wisely for retirement.
How to Delay the Gratification for – “Long Term Happiness”
Shedding light on few extremely simple ways to delay gratification to achieve long term happiness are discussed here. It is to handhold you and also leads you on this new path of taking ownership of your happiness quotient:
1. Plan your Goals
The most important first step you need to take is to understand what you really want – Goal Setting. If you are unaware of how to set goals or break them down, ask yourself what is it that you want to achieve in the next month, a year or in 5 years. Once you know your objective, ask yourself, “Am I ready to take on the pain that comes with it?”
This might sound detrimental to you but Author, Mark Manson says that planning a goal might be easy but the real challenge is to withstand the struggles that you face in your journey.
James Clear gives you a brief step to step guideline on how you can do Goal Setting.
Once you learn the art of Goal setting, your next step is to plan your goals and have a vision for each one of them.
Plan your short term as well as long term goals as they will not be a distraction for you to give in your urges.
Having a vision will help you stay focused and disciplined as well. For example, we often have the temptation to snooze our alarm instead of getting up early to exercise. This is where we need to understand that exercising in the long-run will keep us healthy and fit.
Why is Planning your goals so important? It gives you a sense of meaning and purpose and points you in the right direction we want to go towards your goals. It keeps you motivated, interested and engaged, which are good for your overall happiness.
a) Tie Emotions to your Goals
Emotions are the root cause of instant gratification and also reduce our reasoning skills. Create a habit around your emotion. Understand that emotion and the consequences it leads to. For example, every time you put off an idea or a good habit, remind yourself of the rewards you will receive in return or the happiness that will stay with you for a long time.
Stanford psychologist Walter Mischel in the 1960s is known for the very famous Marshmallow test on children. He found that delayed gratification ended up with the kids having higher SAT scores, lower levels of substance abuse, lower likelihood of obesity, better responses to stress, and better social skills.
In the test – each each kid ended up with a reward when they waited longer. When you reward yourself or get rewarded your brain triggers the dopamine hormone also known as the Reward Molecule. It is responsible for reward-driven behavior and pleasure-seeking.
Creating a reward system will help keep you motivated long-term. Reward yourself for staying away from temptations that distract you and not the other way around.
“The obsession with instant gratification blinds us from our long-term potential.” – Mike Dooley
b) Break down Long-term Goals into Short-term Goals
Having future goals can be extremely motivating but at the same time seem daunting. This is when instant gratification kicks in and makes it hard to stick your long-term goals. Hence, break your long-term goals into short-term to keep you motivated. Keep them easy to do and manageable. This way it is easier to say no to temptations.
In Stephen Covey’s book – 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, one of the habits he mentions is how we should begin with the End in our mind. He specifies that one should start with a clear vision or destination. Then, use our imagination to develop a vision of what we want to become and use our conscience to decide what values will guide us. Break down different roles in your life be it professional, or personal, and list 3 to 5 goals you want to achieve for each.
For example, apply this step to a travel plan. If you plan to take a one-month vacation within the next 1 year but you feel it’s too far off then keep a more realistic short-term goal. Try to book tickets and hotel. If your holiday is at a beach – learn snorkelling or swimming as preparation for the holiday. You may also want to achieve that bikini body you have been dreaming of. This is the time!
You can definitely do it; I know you can!!
“Never give up what you want most, for what you want today.”- Neal A. Maxwell
2. Explore your Hidden Potential
As and when you are inching towards fulfilling your long-term goals, life will throw unexpected obstacles in the way. You need to be ready for any kind of obstacles without giving in to any short-term temptation even if it brings momentary periods of comfort.
For this very reason, it is important to identify the temptations that will sidetrack you from your goals. Prepare a list of the temptations that create a barrier between you and your goals. Reflect on them and understand where you are going wrong and why are you not feeling happy.
There are a number of ways to overcome instant gratification, but you need to know if this will help you change your attitude, behaviour, and perspective towards temptations. When you discipline yourself, your brain automatically knows what is right and what is wrong for you. The moment you have the thought of your temptation, your brain will send a signal to distract or divert your mind,
For example, if you love shopping, you end up spending all your money without realizing it. And now that shopping is easier than before due to technology, you are tempted to buy often.
But pause for a moment, and calculate how much have you spent on your shopping in 6 months and how much of it have you really used. You will be surprised to know how much hard-earned money you have spent, only to feel happy for a short time. Thus, before you shop ask yourself – “Do I need this? or Is this an impulse reaction to buy out of happiness or boredom? ”
3. Become Mindful and Build Awareness
We practice activities to forget pain, avoid problems, or just lookout for attention. For example, struggling with social media addiction, pub-hopping with friends to runaway away from yourself, having easy sex without any commitment or simply resorting to alcohol abuse. Students are easily distracted and waste most of their times on social media just to be noticed and get attention from strangers.
Practising mindfulness will stop instant gratification from brewing further and help you to focus on the present without any judgments. There are many simple ways to practice mindfulness.
Pay attention –
Take time to notice everything around you instead of being only on social media. Experience everything around you with all your senses. We tend to eat out of emotions, stress, anxiety, and depression. For example, most of us experience FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) when it comes to food and thus gulp down everything too quickly. We do not realize the effect it has on our body. Thus, take the time to smell, taste and truly enjoy your food.
Live in the moment –
Try to find happiness in simple pleasures. For example, buy yourself some flowers and appreciate them. Put them in a decorative vase at home and express gratitude for adding colours, fragrance and beauty to your home.
Accept yourself –
Do not give in to temptations easily to end up feeling guilty. For example, go for a spa or indulge in an activity that will calm your mind off any stress. Spend time with yourself doing what you love. Or talk to a friend about your problems to ease your pain.
Focus on your breathing –
When you have negative thoughts, sit down, take deep breaths and close your eyes. Focus on your breath as it moves in and out of your body. Try different Mindful Meditation exercises that can keep you distracted and focused at the same time.
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“Rule your mind or it will rule you.” – Horace
4. Overcome the feeling of GUILT to Replace it with Happy Feelings
When you have a habit of doing things due to instant gratification, you end up feeling guilty. Replace this feeling with a happy feeling by delaying the gratification. Let your brain secrete all the happy hormones in your body. Accept your problem, change your perspective and move on to achieve long term happiness.
Psychologist and Author Kelly McGonigal explains in her book “The Willpower Instinct” that forgiving yourself and not guilt that increases accountability. Researchers have found that those who look at failure with a self-compassionate point of view, take more responsibility for the failure than when they are self-critical about it. They also are more open and willing to receive feedback and advice from others and learn from their experience.
Guilt comes after indulging in something pleasurable. It makes you more attracted to behaviours that will make you feel guilty. To stop this, you need to stop magnifying your guilt. We often sentence ourselves to months and years of emotional pain over minor issues. For example, you insulted a friend or cheated on your lover or broke your mother’s favourite china cutlery. You end up feeling guilty for the longest time instead of facing it. All you have to do is apologize to your friend and mother, buy your mother some cutlery and start all over again.
The moment you stop feeling guilty and fix your problems by recognizing you did something wrong; you will feel good enough about yourself to rectify things. This will bring about feelings of happiness, joy, and relief.
Instant gratification does not give you happiness in the long-run as it is short-lived by temporarily improving our mood or satisfying our needs for a moment ONLY.
However, delaying gratification by planning your goals, being mindful and aware of your environment and avoiding negative emotions can give you long-term happiness. There is no doubt that.
Care for others and not indulge in your selfish desires will delay gratification and also boost your happy hormones.
Spread love, happiness, and joy!