There are plenty of things in life that are worth waiting for, and there are plenty of things that we can reasonably wait for because they’re not immediate needs. Sometimes, though, more often for some than others, it can be very hard or almost impossible to wait for those things.
I’ll admit that I can be one of those people who have trouble waiting. I’ll get an idea in my head, something that I want to buy or that I want to go do, and I want to do it right now. Not tomorrow, not in a week, but now. Waiting just won’t cut it. It’s almost like an itch that I have to scratch before I drive myself crazy thinking about it. It doesn’t necessarily have to be something that I need, or something that may not be there if I wait; it just has to be something that I’ve decided I really, really want. Like a box of raspberries, which I have to drive twenty-five minutes to get.
I’ve wondered a lot, off and on over the years, about the reasons for this behavior. It’s not like it’s something that’s limited to me or a few people that I know; I’ve seen this in a lot of people. Mostly, it seems to be common in people in my own generation and younger. I’ve come up with a few possibilities as to why it’s so common to be unable, or unwilling, to delay gratification.
- The increased pace of society – The speed of life has increased since our parents were children (and this is true regardless of your age), and with this speed increase has come a sense of urgency. Waiting doesn’t feel acceptable when it feels like any slowdown or hesitation will cause you to fall behind. Instead, it’s now or never.
- The relative lack of responsibility compared to older generations – I don’t mean that the younger generations are inherently less responsible than the older ones. What I mean is that those in the 25 years old and younger age bracket generally have fewer responsibilities than their older counterparts. Some of us have children and families and careers, but some of us are single and unencumbered. Less responsibility means you don’t have to plan for the future as much, so waiting doesn’t feel necessary. You have no one to hurt or answer to but yourself.
- Lack of practice – How often have you actively tried to stifle your need for instant gratification? How often have you needed to? You don’t get good at something without practice, and you won’t practice unless you feel a need to. As the need becomes more common, at least some of us will start doing it and get better at it; some of us won’t.
- Prevalence of credit cards and personal loans – Credit cards are commonplace and acceptable. Buying things you can’t afford with money that you don’t have has become a part of the American Dream, almost. Having easy access to credit cards and personal loans feeds right into the now mentality, because they discourage waiting. Instead, buy it now and pay for it later; no need to save, wait, or budget.
While it appears to be generational behavior, I think it’s more a product of the way society as a whole is structured. And while it often goes hand-in-hand with buying what you can’t afford, which behavior contributed a lot to the current economic recession, the two behaviors can be mutually exclusive. Wanting everything immediately doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re being reckless or irresponsible with your finances, though the mentality does make it easier to spend more than you have.
As a whole, I think our society would benefit from practicing delayed gratification, even when we don’t need to. That way, when situations arise where waiting is necessary and beneficial, we’re more comfortable doing it and therefore more likely to do it when we need to. At the same time, I don’t feel that the behavior is always negative. There’s nothing wrong with instant gratification if it’s not causing you any problems. You just have to look at each situation individually and judge accordingly.
What do you think? Can the need for instant gratification ever be a positive trait? Or is it always something you should try to control, and always detrimental? Is it a personality flaw, a product of our environment, or something else?
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