In the era of overnight shipping, UberEats, Netflix binging, and dating via thumb swipe, we have left behind patience in exchange for restlessness. Is instant delivery, instant gratification, and instant consumption robbing us of a powerful source of happiness?
This year, Netflix developed the “skip the intro” button so agitated bingers could make it to the 8th episode (of the evening) hassle-free. It seems as though this instant gratification would significantly boost our levels of happiness. However, it turns out, committing to something that won’t happen right away can exceed the hit we get from immediate indulgence. Here’s why.
The Marshmallow Experiment.
If you haven’t heard of the famous marshmallow experiment AND you haven’t watched the slow but laughable film 5 Year Engagement, here’s the low-down on the psychology behind patience.
The experiment began by bringing a child into a private room, sitting them down in a chair, and placing a marshmallow on the table. The researcher told the child that he was going to leave the room and that if the child did not eat the marshmallow, they would be rewarded with a second marshmallow. However, if the child decided to eat the first one before the researcher came back, then they would not get a second.
So the choice was simple: one treat right now or two treats later. The researcher left the room for 15 minutes. After reviewing footage and reentering the room, they found that some kids caved immediately, others lasted a considerable amount of time but caved, and a few standouts patiently waited for the researcher to return.
The study didn’t stop here. Researchers checked back in with these children when they were no longer children. The children who were willing to delay gratification and waited to receive the second marshmallow ended up having:
- Higher SAT scores;
- Lower levels of substance abuse;
- Lower likelihood of obesity;
- Better responses to stress;
- Better social skills as reported by their parents;
- and generally better scores in a range of other life measures.
Basically, having the patience to delay momentary pleasure for a greater long-term payback is a necessary life skill that can make us smarter, healthier, and more popular.
Cultivating Patience and the Power of Anticipation.
In reality, the era of the instant has made us jittery, fidgety, phone-addicted, ADHD-stricken, anxiety-plagued citizens. Anticipation can actually enhance our happiness by filling us with the elation and excitement of looking forward to something or the pride-rich grit of working hard for a delayed result.
Healthy Living and Delayed Gratification.
One of the most rewarding kinds of work, is the work we engage in on a daily basis to foster better physical and mental health. Delayed gratification can be helpful with:
- Sustaining an unpleasant workout for a stronger body
- Abstaining from fast food for better heart health
- Sitting through discomfort to finish a mind-clearing meditation
Money Choices and Delayed Gratification.
David DeSteno, the author of Emotional Success: The Power of Gratitude, Compassion, and Pride found that people didn’t feel particularly keen to contribute to their retirement funds under the researcher presented them with an aged photo of their face looking unhappy. Seeing this potential reality ignited compassion in the participants and made them more inclined to invest in their future selves.
Putting money aside for our future provides more happiness and satisfaction than blowing money on impulse purchases. It’s easier to take care of the self we acknowledge in the present moment, but harder to find compassion for our future circumstances. For this reason, many end up in debt trying to please momentary desires without care for upcoming responsibilities.
The Solution? Boredom.
One day I was making the usual commute to work when I realized I didn’t charge my phone over the course of the evening. The screen goes black. I forgot my book and there wasn’t even a newspaper in sight to stimulate my tired brain cells. I just kind of sat there, bored. The boredom overcame me like a childhood monster I had long forgotten.
When was the last time I had really been bored? Always a phone to click; a hit of dopamine just a tap away. Without these little pleasures I felt odd. This feeling, I believe is our solution. We have to sit with this discomfort. Boredom is an important ingredient to a life of well-being and satisfaction.
It is when we can deal with boredom that we realize, we can just be, without consuming, buying, eating, running, working, scrolling, hustling, talking, reading, clicking. We can just be.
Be bored today. Refrain from filling your commute with music, podcasts, or books. Leave your phone a good distance from you when you’re travelling. Eat your food in silence and without the TV playing as a backdrop. Embrace boredom.