Long Term Happiness versus Instant Gratification

We all know that self-gratification doesn’t bring true happiness, right?

Image courtesy of photostock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of photostock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

But did you know that instant gratification – like eating a giant bowl of ice cream or pulling out a credit card to buy a fabulous pair of expensive shoes – can have the same physical effect on your genes as being depressed or stressed out?

An interesting article on CNN Health discussed the findings of a groundbreaking study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences last year. The study found that people who experience the “well-being” that comes from self-gratification had high inflammation and low antiviral and antibody gene expression similar to people who are depressed or experiencing extremely stressful situations.

Whoops. I think that means we’re all in a bunch of trouble since instant self-gratification rules the world today.

You know what I mean. Think about ATM machines that provide instant cash, fast food supplying instant meals, the Internet with its access to instant information and entertainment – all of which has turned us into impatient beings that can’t tolerate waiting for anything.  We don’t want to take the time or energy to lose weight the sensible way. We’d rather take a pill for extra fast results. Instead of waiting for our hair to grow out, we spend thousands of dollars on hair extensions. Who cares if tanning beds increases our chance of skin cancer? We choose that over laying out in the sun for days. Why work on a marriage when we can get a quick divorce and move on to the next relationship? Instead of taking the time to sleep, we’d rather skip it and drink a Red Bull in the morning for instant energy.

You get my drift.

Now I’m going to show my age. I’ll try not to sound too preachy. But if you’re a baby boomer like me, you’ll remember that in the not so distant past we worked hard and waited for the things we wanted. When I got married over 35 years ago, my husband and I didn’t go on an expensive honeymoon, buy a luxurious house along with brand new furnishings, or even own a credit card. Nor did we expect these things. We lived in a modest apartment with used furniture our parents gave us, drove old cars, and waited patiently until we could afford to buy something with cash. And we were happy.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Now we live in a society that wants everything right NOW and not a minute later.

Unfortunately, decisions made for the purpose of instant gratification are often made impulsively without much thought about future consequences. In addition, this attitude leads to frustration, anger, impatience which can cause health problems.

Family psychologist Dr. Jennifer Hartstein makes some sobering observations. She explains that “we have become an immediate gratification culture, and we expect things to move quickly, efficiently and in the way we want. When that doesn’t happen, we tend to become increasingly  frustrated and irritable, [a sign] of impatience.” She adds, “We’ve lost the art of just slowing down and enjoying the moment.”

According to the CNN article, there are two types of well-being. Hedonic well-being comes from a self-involved experience that gives us instant pleasure and requires continuous action to constantly feed our positive emotions. This type of well-being is reliant on external factors and the satisfaction typically leaves as fast as it comes. For example, buying an expensive pair of shoes creates a temporary high but to keep that euphoric feeling we must keep shopping for the next quick fix. If something threatens our ability to seek out this kind of personal happiness – for example, all our credit cards are maxed out – our entire source of well-being is threatened.

The second type, eudaimonic well-being, is a kind of happiness that comes, not from consuming products, but from working toward something larger than ourselves that gives true meaning to life. If we’re pursuing something worthwhile that involves collaborating with other people, we’ll also find well-being in the connections we make and these associates can help us get through hard times. This type of well-being can bring long-term happiness.

That’s not to say that we should never reward ourselves with a bowl of ice cream or a great pair of shoes as a special treat every once in a while. We don’t have to wait to enjoy the present or our lives.

However, we’ll all be happier if we develop some self-control and avoid the habit of wanting everything this instant. As pointed out in the beginning of this article, constantly giving into momentary desires can actually make us feel depressed in the long run. Advertisers have become experts at convincing us that instant gratification is the key to happiness. Don’t buy it.

Shoot for long-term satisfaction and fulfillment instead.


Julie A. Gorges is the author of two young adult novels, Just Call Me Goody Two Shoes and Time to Cast Away and co-author of Residential Steel Design and Construction published by McGraw Hill. In addition, hundreds of her articles and short stories have been published in national and regional magazines, and she received three journalism awards from the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association while working as a newspaper reporter. Julie currently lives in southern California with her husband, Scott, and has two grown children and three grandchildren.

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3 Responses

  1. Marilyne says:

    That is so true Julie! Most everything is instant today!
    Years ago, I would sometimes wait in line for 1 1/2 hours
    Just to go in swimming in the community indoor pool on a hot day!
    When, we had to wait for things we appreciated them a lot more than if they
    were given to us right away. A lot of people today take a lot for granted
    and get upset if they have to wait for things!

  1. July 28, 2015

    […] “[W]e’ll all be happier if we develop some self-control and avoid the habit of wanting everythin… (Baby Boomers) […]

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