Can you imagine a world bereft of patience? Everyone rushing to wherever they need to go at breakneck speeds. Getting nervous because they haven’t received a reply to a text they have sent just seconds ago. Feeling left out because they haven’t seen what is “trending”. Living in a continuously strung out state because they know nothing else but instant gratification as a way of life.
Sadly, it’s happening now and rampantly so. An entire generation looking to find answers at their fingertips empowered by technology that greatly magnifies the illusion of now.
Compare this with Walter Mischel’s popular Marshmallow experiment conducted back in 1960s and 70s. Or, for that matter, Swami Sarvpriyananda’s, “Bhagvad Gita for Students” talk at IIT Kanpur. They both concur that patience is good for the soul and that crucial to success in life is the ability to delay the gratification.
Patience which was long considered a virtue, seems more like an anachronism today. DVRs have eliminated the need to waste time watching commercials, and viewers can get their entertainment fix immediately with on-demand movies. Why stand in line or make a phone call when smartphone apps let consumers’ book dinner reservations and buy movie tickets in seconds?
A growing number of retailers in U.S. and now in India too, are trying to tempt consumers with costly same-day delivery options. Amazon offers same-day delivery in some cities, which means packages ordered early in the day will arrive by 8 p.m. Companies are counting on people’s impatience to sell their services. Internet service providers promise ever-faster connections — for a hefty price, of course. Credit card bills are growing and savings are decreasing.
Many young professionals today want their careers to be on steroids. They crave the gratification of a pay raise or promotion every few months, and when they don’t get the expected rewards, they feel frustrated and sometimes even quit their jobs.
Everywhere you see, the need for round-the-clock connection is making people more impatient, robbing them of time for quiet reflection or deeper, more critical thinking. They tend to want constant stimulation, have less impulse control and get distracted more easily.
Unfortunately, instant gratification is also being confused as happiness. How does one truly enjoy the nature walk or sipping the cocktail at the beach, if most of the time is being spent on getting the perfect picture and then waiting for the number of “likes” on Facebook/Instagram?
“Mindfulness” has its merits. Things and experiences gain value because we have waited for them and waited on them. Much like a buffed up body built on steroids will only last as long as you keep pumping more steroids. There are no short cuts to good health and a fit body. One has to persevere and put in hard work to achieve the desired results.
But should we just put the blame on millennials? As Walter Mischel explains “It’s the information-technology revolution which has provided us with an enormous number of instantly available ways of getting answers, getting responses, getting gratification. So there is a huge change not in individuals, but in the environment of immediate temptations, of “buy buttons,” that are available. We are living in a world with an array of temptations that were once inconceivable. There is no decrease in the skills that are needed for self-control. There is an increase in the temptations.”
Self-control is not genetically pre-destined. It’s like a skill which can be honed over time. Going back to Swami Ji’s lecture, there is a stage between the sub conscious and conscious, where you get the small window of opportunity to control your actions and reactions. One needs to be mindful of that opportunity and master it.
At the same time, learning when you want to eat the marshmallow is just as important as developing the skills that allow you to resist the marshmallow. A life lived with too much delay of gratification can be as sad as one without enough of it.