Delayed gratification refers to an individual’s potential and capability of delaying something pleasurable now. This is in order to obtain something much more rewarding or pleasurable at a later time.
Walter Mischel undertook a series of studies now referred to as the Stanford marshmallow experiments in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. The subjects of the experiments were children between the ages of four and six. The studies were simple in principle.
Each child was led into a room free of distractions and offered a treat of their choice. Each child was given the option of having the treat immediately or waiting for approximately fifteen minutes at which point they would then be offered two treats.
In follow-up studies there appeared to be a correlation between those children that were able to wait for more treats and better life outcomes. A much larger study with a more diverse sample population was undertaken. However, this larger study failed to support Mischel’s initial findings. The larger study’s results suggested that the results were due to economic background, not willpower.
In Freudian psychoanalysis, there is a term known as the pleasure principle. In stark contrast to Mischel, Freud argued that children seek immediate gratification.
Whatever the driving force behind delayed gratification in children may be, for many of us, we must learn to tolerate the displeasure of delayed gratification if we have a goal or greater purpose in mind. Arguably such a viewpoint tends to be acquired with a certain level of maturity and resignation.
In my opinion, there are very often two options open to us in life. One option is the avoidance of pain. And the other is pushing aside short term pleasure for a bigger purpose.
In terms of examples, the former option may be an individual turning to alcohol as a form of coping or escapism. The latter option, the more difficult of the two, is the path of delaying pleasure for a bigger purpose.
Our modern day lives, cultures, and mass-consumerism make it far too easy for us to seek escapism. The opportunities to do so are all around us. It takes willpower, mental resilience and often the advice and support of those around us to take the path of delayed gratification.
Our life choices are all too often made with the aim of the immediate avoidance of pain.
This is understandable. For many of us, at times life can become intolerable.
However, such a viewpoint prevents many of us from seeing that delayed gratification may be where the solutions to our troubles lie.
Originally published in Medium publication ‘Hopes and Dreams’ 04/03/19. All rights reserved.