Instant gratification. The symptom of the 21st century, it seems.
When I grew up, I was taught that “money didn’t grow on trees” and that “good things came to those who waited”. These are things that have stood me in good stead throughout my life. I still have the belief that I have to save up before I can have some luxury item I want.
So often, nowadays, the gap between people wanting and getting has narrowed until it can barely even exist. We are taught by the advertising execs that we want just about everything there is. We are shown that items will make us cooler, more popular, more successful and, as the ads have been created in such a way, we buy in. We were then sold credit on a massive scale, so the excuse of “I can’t afford it” becomes less and less viable. And finally, we’ve been inspired by the personal development industry that we deserve the good things in life.
All in all, it can be very hard to resist.
But what exactly do these purchases give us? Having something new can give us a little buzz. It can relieve the monotony of life. Suddenly there’s something different to wear or look at and it can feel a bit like it’s our birthday come early. There’s nothing wrong with feeling these things as long as you don’t need to keep shopping to feel it.
However this buzz will soon wear off. If you’ve made a good purchase, the buzz will be replaced with a deeper feeling about the item; maybe an appreciation of it, or a gratitude for it. If that deeper feeling doesn’t materialise, you may be tempted to recreate the buzz from making another purchase. In reality, instant gratification shopping is a bit like a hit from a drug. Is it any wonder that shopping addiction has become so prevalent.
I believe delayed gratification needs to come back into fashion in our culture. I love the feeling of acquiring something that I’ve worked up to having. Something that maybe I’ve had to save for or something that has taken a while to organise. The feeling of achievement, of finally reaching the goal, far outweighs the fleeting buzz I get from an impulse buy.
Then there’s also the time spent dreaming of the goal. Imagining what it will be like when I get it. Refining what exactly it is that I want, so I know the item will give me long lasting pleasure. (How many people have outfits in their wardrobe that have never been worn?)
Instant gratification is also very present with our time nowadays. How often do we reach for our phones when the first twinges of boredom set in? How often do you actually sit and do nothing? I remember, as a child, my mum sitting down with a cup of tea to chill out. She may have picked up a magazine, but often she just sat for the 5-10 mins it took her to drink it and relaxed.
We seem to have lost this art to sit and do nothing. We seem to need something or somebody to give us something to do. People don’t sit and wait any more, without tuning into technology or watching a television screen.
I’m pleased that meditation is becoming popular, but I wonder whether this rise in its interest is related to the lack of time we spend just being in our day to day lives.
I believe being able to sit and so nothing is something we have to learn. I remember being rubbish at it when I was a kid. Children don’t have the same sense of time as adult and so sitting and waiting is much harder for them. However, there were frequent times when I had to sit and wait; in a car on a journey, in a doctors waiting room, waiting for dinner to be cooked. My parents did give me activities if I had ages to wait, maybe a colouring book or a book to read, however often we just waited. I’m often shocked at how very young children are given a tablet to play on at the first sign of boredom.
The biggest issue I can see with all this instant gratification activity is that we are not giving ourselves time to chill and process our lives. We need downtime – it’s very important. During downtime, we stop thinking and start processing the things that have happened, which maybe we haven’t had a chance to look at. When I sit and chill, I’ll remember things I need to do, whereas I won’t while I’m on Facebook. It also gives us time to think about things that have happened during the day and put them into perspective. If we never do this, resentments and frustrations fester and emotions can become stuck.
The buzz we get from needing to be instantly fulfilled not only distracts us from the many things we know we ought to be doing, but we may be pushing down emotional baggage that wants to come up to be released and healed. This is very similar to what happens with an addiction – they keep our issues buried so we don’t have to face them. When we try and change our behaviour, we come up against an uncomfortable emotion and often we back away. If we actually embraced it and followed it through, we’d find that it resolved and cleared. So we may think that buying things make us happy, but if you are using shopping for this reason, it may actually be keeping you unhappy.
So, next time you reach for your phone or your credit card, think about whether you are reaching for an instant gratification fix or making a long term purchase.
Tags: addictions, emotional blocks, emotional health