It’s hard to give out something now for a return that we’ll get at a later point. We want an immediate pleasure and evolutionary it has been central for our survival. Food, water, sex, and more food were necessary to keep up living and pass on our genes to the next generation. We did not have to care about anything else so much. However, with the dynamics of modern world and as we age, for a greater purpose in mind we are learning to endure the lack of immediate pleasure – delayed gratification.
Delayed gratification is our skill to postpone an immediate reward in favor of more distant long-term gain. We postpone or reject an immediate outcome only if the future reward is expected to be more satisfactory. That’s why we do give a stress and pain to our body and mind when exercising, fasting, investing or learning something new. Those activities usually have the cost occurring immediately, whereas the reward may come at a very distant point in time. So, the idea behind delayed gratification is intuitive as it promises a bigger reward to us. Nonetheless, it might be that our expectations are not met either at the point we wish or not at all. Thus, it is a risky decision to make, which explains why the reward is bigger as well. We need to trust that the reward to appear. So, what helps us to go for delayed gratification rather than the immediate pleasure?
The first thing needed for delayed gratification is the purpose. We need to have a greater reward expected so that we take the pain of having any sort of expense till we get there. Once the purpose is set up, we need to have a cognitive control to regulate our feelings, thoughts and actions. In our brain, there are certain areas and functions that play a role in delayed gratification. The hippocampus is related to future planning, whereas our nucleus accumbens is the “reward” center and a dopamine recipient. The reward expected in the future should be synced by these two and further regions of the brain to coordinate the actions and feelings. We can train ourselves in becoming better at delaying gratification by turning it into a routine.
Aristotle thought that the people are unhappy because they are mixing up pleasure with true happiness. According to the Greek philosopher, the true happiness should be based on developing habits and surrounding yourself with people who can help you grow your soul. Obviously this is just one argument out there. Life is random and unpredictable. It does not act on our wishes and expectations. We should create our own purposes that may promise a greater gain.
We should not always choose the delayed gratification. Actually, we should not hope at all for a greater future, since it is prone to fail mostly. Nonetheless, we do, and it is OK. By exposing ourselves to this dilemma often, doing self-reflection on our past experiences and experimenting new methods on how to gain bigger reward can definitely help us get better at it. Once we what our purposes are, we do find a way to get there.
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