Understanding the Price of Instant Gratification

Today, almost every human need can be instantly gratified. We obtain information, learn, shop, bank, manage our finances, socialize or get entertained at the click of a mouse or a tap on a screen. Most of our practical needs are responded to in milliseconds. Have these privileges made us happier or more demanding and impatient?

Though all these technological advancements have vastly improved our lives, have they made us less people-oriented and quicker to anger? Has our need for instant gratification caused us to become more self-centered, jittery and less accepting of others?

Does our personal narcissism and lack of emotional investment in others predominate our conduct?  A caller is often given a preference over the present individual who is put “on Hold”. This practice confirms that our needs must be instantly gratified even at the expense of the dignity of the person who should command our primary attention. This disrespectful habit disconnects us from the present individual and relegates him/her to a secondary position. We have not yet developed a proper etiquette about honoring our present company over a distant one.

As our narcissism is constantly rewarded it affects our interpersonal human bond. Today, it is not uncommon for couples on a date to be focusing on their phone screens instead of gazing into each other’s eyes. It is no longer work or personal emergencies that distract lovers’ eye-to-eye contact but their technological gadgets that capture their primary attention. It is as though we are always “somewhere else” when we need to be “here’’.

When we love our car, home, job, or any of our precious possessions we pay a lot of attention to keeping “it” in good condition. We maintain it, repair it, and work hard to preserve it. Unfortunately, some people do not invest enough energy in maintaining and cultivating their interpersonal relationships. In our self-centered culture many of us have become more self-absorbed and less caring, attentive or considerate of others. This evolution may have some grave implications for our human relationships as our inanimate objects replace our human connectedness.

In 1970 Stanford University Professors Walter Mischel and Ebbe B. Ebbese conducted the famous “Marshmallow Test” of deferred gratification with children ages four to six years old. The youngsters were asked if they wanted to receive one marshmallow immediately or two marshmallows if they waited fifteen minutes. A follow up study found that “the preschool children who delayed gratification longer were described more than 10 years later by their parents as adolescents who were significantly more competent.”

We may learn from this study that delayed gratifications of the moment can enrich our future and bestow us with greater competence, personal and relationship satisfaction.

Manage your life’s rewards:

  • Accept that long-term human connection based on eye-to-eye interaction and verbal and emotional support must supersede all momentary inanimate pleasures.
  • Trade instant gratifications for the rewards of long-term love connections that are achieved by cultivating attentive, validating human relationships.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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