Remember instant gratification? You seldom hear that term any more because that’s what life is all about nowadays. It’s not an anomaly or an undesirable trait that only applies to impatient people. We are constantly being instantly gratified, whether we are craving food, information or entertainment. How about an attention span? It’s another concept bordering on the archaic because nobody seems to have one. If you are under the age of thirty, let’s say, you’ve probably grown up having to wait for nothing. That patience that used to be a virtue has become a liability.
I’ll confess I’m a cranky old guy bombarded by instant messaging, breaking news alerts on my cell phone, immediate access to news around the world and Facebook commentary that has little to do with me or my life from people I hardly know. Then again, I sign up for the email alerts, check out the cable headline news to learn the latest development about Kate Middleton’s chest and even do occasional Facebook surveillance just in case there is some morsel I can consume, digest and pass on. Like just about everyone else, I don’t want to miss anything, no matter how trivial it may be.
As a Boomer, I can step back and see the transitions that seem so seamless to people who weren’t around before microwaves, online shopping and diet meals delivered to your door. It gives me some perspective on the impact of instant gratification in our culture.
Our attitude toward food—the most important component in how we look and feel— is an example of how we no longer take the time to make sure we are ingesting properly prepared stuff that is good for us. Fast food is aptly named because we consume great volumes of it and we want it without having to wait. That gives us more time to eat more. If possible, it’s even better if we don’t have to get out of our cars to pick up our super-sized portions of carbs, fat and protein. It wasn’t that long ago when people grew and raised their own food, used sugar and salt sparingly and ate in moderation because the more they ate the harder they had to work. They actually burned off many of the calories they ingested growing, gathering and preparing their meals. The food that fueled and sustained them required exercise to get it to the table.
That’s right. There was a time when families ate together at the same table.
You’ve seen the TV ads with a shapely lass crowing about how she lost gobs of weight without having to give up most of the stuff that made her fat in the first place. How about the guy with the awesome six-pack who says he got that way by just working out 10 minutes a day? All it takes is a miracle diet plan or a magic machine and you can have it all right now.
What none of these user-friendly diets and gizmos demand are sacrifice, self-discipline and patience. The quick fix, which we have come to regard as an entitlement, carries over into our politics and our expectations from government. Never mind how long it took to get into our predicament, we want it resolved now. Just don’t expect us to pay more taxes or give anything up.
The bottom line is simple. Doing it is the hard part, and, most importantly, doing it slowly, patiently is key to doing it right. You see, by the time you shed weight, for example, you have probably developed a diet and exercise regimen you are more likely to stick with. Getting there may mean months, even years, of your life, depending on how overweight you are. That’s just too long to wait for too many of us. And, yes, getting healthy, as with life itself, often seems unfair. I might lose my 50 pounds, following the same approach as you, in a handful of months. Meanwhile, you are still multiple pounds from your goal after a year. Seems unfair. Then again, it is also unfair that some people get fatter eating essentially the same stuff as thinner friends.
Hey, it’s also unfair that your daughter’s IQ is 20 point higher than my son’s and she got into Princeton with scholarships and he’s settling for the state college down the road. The trick is doing the best with what you’ve got and not resenting those who seem blessed with unearned advantages. Earning something is definitely better than having it given to you—even if you are the only one who cares.
What does all of this have to do with instant gratification? To me it’s about another seldom-used phrase—sense of accomplishment. The things you accomplish through sacrifice and hard work simply make you feel better about yourself. Don’t be blinded by resentment toward others who seem to have more than you with less effort expended. If nothing has come quickly or easily for you on your life’s journey, you possess a depth of understanding, a wisdom, that can’t be granted instantaneously.