Sunday, August 3, 2008

Delayed Gratification vs Instant Gratification

Why are we so prone to choose instant gratification over delayed gratification, even though delaying the gratification usually brings greater satisfaction and happiness?

Well lately I've been struggling with another dilemma, to which I couldn't find an accurate answer, regardless if I asked average people or psychologists. The answers that I got, only explained this tendency in a limited environment or for a specific situation, but when you tried to apply it in general they usually failed.

Well after boggling my mind with this, this morning I came up with a concept, that in my opinion links all the theories together and can offer a general explanation.

However before I continue, I think it would be best to describe what I mean by "instant and delayed gratification".

The simplest way for this would be through an example:
Let's say, when you were a kid, you're mom was making you're favorite pie and you loved it so much, that you couldn't wait for it to be done so that you can taste it. So what did you do? When the pie was done and your mom took it out of the oven, smelling that incredible smell, you ran there took a piece of the hot pie and stuffed in your mouth, even though you knew that it's gonna burn your tongue and that it's gonna be soar for a few days after (maybe even so much that you wouldn't be able to taste the rest of the pie).

I'm pretty sure that most of us are familiar with this story. Some of us (including me :) ) still do it to this day. We choose to be gratified in the instant when the pie is still hot, even though we are conscious that it will burn our tongue, instead of delaying the gratification, waiting a bit for the pie to cool down, and enjoy the same grate taste without the added suffering.

We know, that if we delay the gratification, it will serve us better, but we are so overwhelmed that we choose to do something that satisfies us less in the long term.

This tendency shows up in countless situations and what we usually choose is the instant gratification over the delayed one. Be it a choice between watching TV and cleaning the room (the 2nd would offer us more comfort in the long run), eating fast-food (+taste, -health) over salad (+health, -taste) etc.

The common element in most of these, is feeling instant discomfort or less comfort, if we delay the gratification. If we choose to eat the salad, we will enjoy less taste in the moment, if we clean the room it will be less comfortable since we will need to invest some energy and if we eat the pie later, the wait will create a lack of comfort for a period of time.

On the other hand, if we chose to gratify ourselves in the instant, we will feel an instant rush of good emotions, an instant "reward" for our actions.

So it is pretty obvious why instant gratification would seem the better choice at first glance. You reduce instant discomfort and feel instant pleasure. It doesn't sound like a bad deal, does it?

.....Well IT IS a bad deal, in fact a horrible one in most cases.

I'll go into the details in my next post.

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