We live in a world where instant (and constant) gratification seems to be the demand. We want responses to texts and emails immediately. We can watch TV without commercials, watch an entire series without delay, and press pause were we to ever be in danger of missing a minute. We can pull out our phone and go shopping the moment we realize we want or need something. In many cases, we can have things delivered to us, even on the same day we place an order.
There are many more iterations of ‘instant gratification’ nowadays. But what impact does having such immediate access to so many ways of fulfilling an array of desires and needs within seconds have on our mental and emotional health?
From what I’ve seen in my practice, the more ‘instant’ the world becomes, and more reinforced this concept becomes for someone, the less happy they seem to be in areas of life where they cannot receive the same speed of gratification.
For example, take a look at relationships. While you can go on many apps to find yourself a date, and do your best to instantly connect with someone who has the potential to be a compatible partner for you, one cannot “instafy” (yes, I made that word up) a relationship. Relationships generally need time to build, and time to come together. Chemistry is a good start, but one still needs to get to know the other person — learn what they like or don’t like, what they’re passionate about, what makes them upset, how they react to different things over time, how you respond to each other in different situations, etc.
What I’m seeing overall is a greater trend towards desire for the relationship to be instantly gratifying, and also to remain almost constantly gratifying. There is little patience or tolerance for less these days. When we train our brains to believe that we can realistically have what we want when we want it, and in so many cases do nowadays, it’s hard to internalize the fact that we still have to sit patiently with unknowns in other areas of our lives.
This trend is also seen with respect to expectations of financial gratification. While this isn’t necessarily a new concept, it seems that people nowadays are less ready than ever to accept the idea of “climbing the ladder” and find themselves distressed by the idea of delayed success. It almost seems that slow and steady loses the race nowadays (at least that seems to be the feeling, whether or not it’s fully the reality).
What I end up seeing from people who have a desire to instafy the world is an abundance of stress, anxiety, aggravation, and frustration. When impulses can be gratified immediately, sure it feels like an urge has been satisfied. But when a need, desire, or urge can’t be instantly gratified, there’s almost a widespread sense that something is wrong, internally and externally. Too much impulse, not enough patience, thought, or reflection. Incidentally, this process is also a driving force behind addiction, where there is an urge to escape or change emotional states to a more desired state in an instant.
Therapy is a good illustration of the difference in power between instant and delayed gratification. I’ve seen people who are patient with the process, taking time to learn, reflect, and feel — understanding that change takes time and come out feeling more balanced within themselves and the world. At the same time, I’ve seen others who go from therapist to therapist constantly looking for the one who’s going to “do life-changing therapy to them” in three sessions, expecting that the “right” therapist will be able to give them a tool or technique, or say something that will change them overnight.
What’s the result? Generally, the one who seeks instant gratification is more likely to be unfulfilled and frustrated overall. I also can’t help but wonder how much this increases depression and impacts self-worth and confidence for people. When you can’t reach your goals immediately, it can lead to people feeling less than and not good enough. On the other hand, if you actually can reach your goals immediately, then what’s left? Either way, it’s not an emotionally healthy place to go. Having to work towards things that you desire is often a great motivator for people in life. Working toward the vacation, the new toy you want, the new house, and so on.
From what I’ve seen in my practice and generally in the world, the one who can cope with delayed gratification is far more likely to be less affected when things can’t come to you immediately. The quicker the gratification and the more this is reinforced, the lesser the tolerance for anything otherwise.
Maybe it’s not so bad to watch some commercials once in a while…