The term ‘Instant Gratification’ is widely known and widely used in today’s society. Having something tomorrow or having to wait any longer than now, is often far too long in today’s culture.
Instant gratification can be observed throughout all ages and in numerous situations, it is not limited to a certain type of individual or situation. And whether we are talking about acquiring a new car or the urge to have something to eat, instant gratification is in action.
When it comes to explaining how this was created, the only thing I can give is my own opinion, based on my own experiences and observations. I do not claim to have all the answers or that this is the truth.
Many years ago this was talked about by Sigmund Freud, with the pleasure and reality principles. And to describe these terms loosely, the reality principle is having the ability to postpone and delay gratification, with the pleasure principle describing the need for instant gratification and an inability to delay gratification.
Good Or Bad?
So is instant gratification good or bad? I don’t believe that it’s a question of it being a good or a bad thing. What I think it comes down do is the application. There will naturally be times when we need something fast. However, there will also be moments when we will have to wait.
Problems occur when the ability to wait for something has not been developed or realised. And life becomes a constant drive or obsession to have everything instantly. This of course brings about many other problems, mainly because this is not always possible.
The areas of life that are more significant and meaningful, for example; achieving goals, having fulfilling relationships or achieving physical fitness. All of these things take time and this is why delaying gratification is so important. It is important for not only achieving what is often worthwhile, but also for our long term happiness and fulfilment.
So How Was It Created?
So how is something like this created? Where do its roots begin? Is this something that has just ‘happened’? I believe in order to understand instant gratification we have to look at childhood development.
I believe it is through going back to this stage that we will come to understand or at least try to understand what is causing this.
When we are children and during our early childhood, we have needs and because of our lack of independence, these are needs that have to be met by are parents/caregivers. These needs have a direct effect on our survival. They include food, protection and love. And due to the nature of these needs, they have to be fulfilled straight away or as soon as possible.
And this shouldn’t be a problem; with these being needs that can be fulfilled by our parents/caregivers and usually straight away or in a very short time.
When these needs are taken care of in a healthy and consistent manner, a child will likely develop into functional human being. An individual that has their basic needs met and has a sense of trust when it comes down to having them continually met. They won’t consciously think about these needs, as their unconscious mind has all the experience and associations of getting these needs fulfilled from very early on as a child.
It’s like asking a fish what it feels like to live in water; it doesn’t know, as that’s all it knows. And the same applies to this situation.
When these needs are not met or are met in an irregular manner, it creates uncertainty within the child. Having needs that might be met at times and ignored at other moments, will inevitably create a child that is fearful and doesn’t know where it stands. Not knowing what will happen or who it can trust. It will feel extremely vulnerable.
Important bonds and healthy attachments, which are required to insure a child’s wellbeing and psychological health, will be compromised at best and at worst non-existent.
The consequence of this is that the child grows up to feel neglected. That their needs are not important or that their needs can’t be fulfilled. This creates an unhealthy attachment and desperation around getting their needs met.
These needs are insatiable, they are constantly calling out to be fulfilled and listened to.
So if these needs were not met, as an adult there will be a feeling of urgency and desperation around getting something. Because when this person was a child they didn’t get what they wanted or rarely got what they wanted, so when it comes to present day desires they have to have it now or it will remind them of these memories.
This is a childhood where they were neglected and ignored. And to go one moment without having what they want triggers the old feelings of the powerlessness they felt as a child.
Another important question is: what drives us to want all these things? It is said that everything we desire is for the feeling we think it will give us. If an individual has these basic needs that were not met, they are then going do desire a lot of external stimuli and acquisition to compensate for this inner feeling of lack and emptiness.
The ego mind will use escapism to avoid these painful feelings, as a way to assuage ones inner pain, albeit temporarily. The constant need for more things will allow the ego to keep a lid on these inner processes.
It Won’t Last
However like any form of escape or ego defence mechanism, it has its moments and benefits, but they don’t last. Once something has been acquired in the shortest time possible, it doesn’t take long before a new desire appears.
The ego mind needs constant stimulus and escapes to keep itself busy, so that it can avoid facing these repressed and painful memories and will do everything it can to run away from the so called ‘Darker’ side of ourselves.
The law Of Diminishing Returns
The problem with these escapes is that the more of them we have, the more we end up needing and this is because their effect is always diminishing. Ultimately, more and more stimulus is required.
Taking Care Of Our Needs
It is clear to see how important it is to take care of our needs and to realise that although we can’t have something straight way, it doesn’t mean we can’t have it at all.
The child within us, the inner child, might constantly desire and want to have everything straight away. And this might be necessary, however in the moments when it’s not possible, we have to bide our time and exercise patience.
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Oliver J R Cooper
Oliver JR Cooper
Author of 25 books, Transformational Writer, Teacher & Consultant.
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That which is contained within these articles is based on my own empirical understanding and is true for me at the time they were written. However, as I continue to grow, what I perceive as the truth will inevitably change and as a result of this - parts of these articles may not reflect my current outlook.