One mark of maturity is the ability to delay instant gratification. A mature person waits until they lose those extra 20 pounds before eating their birthday cake; they wait until their credit cards are paid off before booking the Tahiti trip; they show prudence in matters of courtship. Mature people who delay gratification suffer now to win later.
Don’t delay gratification! As a rule, you should govern your life with discipline and wisdom. A bowl of carrots for your birthday is the correct choice if you’re 300 pounds above your ideal weight. And you can make that choice – you are the captain of your ship and the master of your house! But that doesn’t mean you can’t be instantly grateful for those carrots.
You think I’m playing a semantics game? I don’t think so. It’s an important shift in how we perceive our own individual reality. I don’t buy into the old notion that God wants us to suffer, and that the surest way into heaven is to deny yourself happiness. You don’t have the ability to deny yourself the things that make you happy, because things can’t make you happy. Not even superficially. You choose your happiness. Assuming you aren’t being tortured by government agents (pay your student loans) or under chemical influence, you have complete control over whether or not you feel happy.
A better way of expressing “delayed gratification” is simply to be the master of your work and play. Don’t allow the impulses of the physical world to gain possession of you. Say no to things that are unhealthy or that you can’t afford. You are a free person, your mind can never be enslaved without your permission (or de facto permission), and your body is controlled by your mind. Know that it is easier to let the current sweep you hither and thither than it is to swim upstream, or downstream, as you see fit. Grab the wheel and work the pedals. It’s called being free. As Jim Rohn said, “If you don’t design your own life plan, chances are you’ll fall into someone else’s plan. And guess what they have planned for you? Not much.” That’s a better way of conveying the sentiment of “delayed gratification.”
I don’t like how the phrase “delay instant gratification” is used. Yes, delay, plan, make good choices, be disciplined, be aware of the world around you and your place in the world. But don’t put off gratification another moment! What is gratification? Google tells me the definition is pleasure, especially when gained from the satisfaction of a desire and the synonyms are satisfaction, fulfillment, indulgence, relief, appeasement, pleasure, enjoyment, and relish. If you don’t feel good because you fail to attain external things, like cake or Suzy McPromqueen, then either have a vision and a plan to achieve those things, or change your expectations. There are no other options, but how you feel about either option is your choice. Choose satisfaction!
If gratification is feeling good, and “good” comes from the Old English word “God”, then in reality you’re looking for the feeling of God. If you’re looking for God in birthday cake then you’ve already made a wrong turn. Same goes with money. Money can buy some things, like security, or that trip to Tahiti with Suzy McPromqueen. But Jesus didn’t have a 401k, and even if he did, he still would have died painfully. You’re going to die too, painfully or not, and so while it’s important to make good decisions with money, cake, and prom queens, don’t peg your happiness to it. You need go no further to look for feelings of good or God than the mirror. You aren’t promised a single external thing in this life. You are promised sovereignty over your own inner, private thoughts and feelings, if you choose to accept yourself as monarch.
You may make every wise decision a body could make in a lifetime, and still die naked, alone, wallowing on a dung heap. That’s not to say you shouldn’t plan and act. It’s also not to say you should look at pictures of Old Boy dead on the dung heap and say, “Jeez, I lost my job, my wife left me, and I have excessive back hair, but at least I’m not him.” The starving kids in China trick misses the point entirely. So does denying yourself feelings when things go south. Be scared, sad, anxious, and so on, when it’s appropriate; nobody is immune to these things. Make good decisions with the external things in your life; it ought to be treated as a big game, because that’s what it is. But in seeking gratification, look inward, and you’ll have it instantly. If you choose.