Imagine that you’re four years old again. You’re in some strange building that you’ve never seen before.

A researcher leads you down a long hall. Finally, you reach a door, and the researchers sits you down. In front of you is a table with a plate on it. On that plate is a single marshmallow.

The researcher looks at you and says, “I’m going to give you one marshmallow right now and leave for a few minutes. If you don’t eat that marshmallow by the time I get back, I’ll give you a second marshmallow. If you do eat that marshmallow before I get back, you won’t get a second one. Do you understand?”

You nod your head.

What would four year old you do? Would you eat the marshmallow immediately or would you wait until the researcher got back?

Stanford Marshmallow Experiment

In 1970 Walter Mischel and Ebbe B. Ebbesen of Stanford University conducted their now famous marshmallow test. The purpose of this study was to understand how and when children develop and control deferred gratification.

In order to conduct their experiment, they studied children from ages 4 to 6. One by one, researchers led these young children into the testing room and offered them a single marshmallow, with a caveat: if they waited, they would be rewarded with a second marshmallow.

Some children were unable to resist the urge and popped the marshmallow in their mouths immediately. Other children attempted to control themselves, but gave into their temptations after just a few minutes. A few children showed remarkable constraint and resisted the urge of eating the first marshmallow.

Some kids would cover their eyes with their hands. Others turned around so they couldn’t see the marshmallow staring back at them. One kicked the desk in an effort of self-control. One kid gently stroked the marshmallow, but didn’t eat it, and was rewarded for his patience.

After an excruciating 15 minutes, researchers came back and rewarded the children with a second marshmallow. Roughly one-third of the children studied were able to delay gratification long enough to receive their reward.

At the time the experiment wasn’t revolutionary. The study simply showed that some kids had a preference for delayed gratification. It wasn’t until years later that researchers really understood the circumstances of their study.

In follow-up studies, researchers found that those children who deferred eating the marshmallow ended up with better life outcomes. Using SAT scores, educational attainment, body mass index, and other measures as a benchmark, researchers found that those who delayed gratification ended up being more successful 20 years later.

Is Delayed Gratification a Good Thing?

This study implies that delayed gratification is a good thing. It shows that those with patience are ultimately rewarded in the end. But I believe there are some flaws.

I am going to argue against delayed gratification. I don’t believe it’s the “great thing” that some make it out to be. As a matter of fact, I believe delayed gratification is actually a bad thing.

I have become aware that my peers, millennials, are putting off happiness today so they can achieve more success later in life. All this in an attempt to attain higher job status and receive a higher income.

What if we are only chasing the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow?

We’re told at a young age to do well in school so we can get into a good college. That way we can get a respected degree which will help us land a well-paying, prestigious job. Then we can marry our soulmate, buy a home, have 2.5 children, and live the American dream.

Only after we do all of that will we feel fulfilled and have a great life. Except this isn’t true. This dream is only an illusion we’ve been fed most of our young adult lives. And many of us are only now figuring this out.

Chasing a False Dream

My friends are going to school longer and getting more degrees in order to fulfill this false dream. They’re caught chasing the carrot of finding a job they love that will (hopefully) land them a fat paycheck.

But this isn’t what happens. Here’s the truth: we’ll go to school, then we’ll get a job in our respectful fields. We’ll become unhappy with that job, so we’ll go back to school. We’ll hope that our new job pays better and is more respectable. Then maybe, just maybe, we’ll be happy.

When we finally achieve all this, we realize we aren’t any happier than we were before. As a matter of fact, we’re more stressed and unhappy.

We’ve been told that delaying gratification is going to make us happy. We’re going to make more money so we can buy a bigger home and send our kids to the best schools. But once we reach these predetermined goals, we’re going to find that we’re still waiting on that promised feeling of happiness and accomplishment.

The Vicious Cycle of “Success”

Many people hate their jobs or have horrible bosses. Their work doesn’t fulfill them. They’re not respected. They’re not rich and powerful like they thought they would be. They haven’t changed the world yet.

Many people try to escape this rut. How do they do this? By chasing more degrees, getting advanced certifications, and clawing for promotions at work.

Too often we end up chasing the next level of success. Nothing ends up being good enough. We become so fixated on trying to reach the next level in hopes it will bring us satisfaction.

We sacrifice today for hopes of a brighter tomorrow. We forget to take a moment to live in the here and now because we are always fixated on the future, striving for more.

Let’s look at college students. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of American, 80% of college students frequently or sometimes experience daily stress. 34% of students had felt depressed at some point in the past 3 months.

In addition to the stress, millennials don’t get away from work. 9 out of 10 millennials can access work info at any time. 73% are expected to be contactable by their employer at any point.

Our elders are telling us to work hard to achieve happiness. We’ve been taught that to be successful you must live out the prescribed dream, and to do so you must always be future-focused.

What happened to enjoying the ride of life? We’re pushed by our parents to do this, be that, and get this. Our parents have the best intentions, but the results are undesirable.

Students are stressed from school and finals. They are trying to get into the best medical schools or the best MBA programs. We have this drive to be the best and to make a difference. Then when we don’t make that huge impact on the world, we feel insignificant. We come to the realization that a longer journey awaits with more stress and anxiety.

What’s the solution? How do we solve this problem? If we’re constantly chasing the carrot, and happiness is always out of our reach, what should we do?

The answer is nothing novel. We need to be happy now with where and who we are.

What Really Matters?

If you were to die tomorrow, would your degrees matter? Would your job title matter? Of course not.

If you’re trying to live out some fantasy, and you’re hoping to find the light at the end of the tunnel, is it really worth it?

Quit racing to be the success that everyone wants you to be. Don’t stress yourself out on a daily basis trying to achieve a dream that somebody else planned for you.

Learn how to be happy today and enjoy the progress that you’re making. Hang on for a ride.

Continue to strive and reach for the stars. But don’t put your happiness and sanity on the line today in hopes that you’ll end up being happy tomorrow.

Learn because you enjoy learning. Don’t learn just so you can get a piece of paper that tells everyone the knowledge you’ve gained.

Don’t wait until tomorrow to try and make a difference in the world. Help someone out today. Go out of your way to be nice to others.

You don’t need to be rich to help people. You don’t need to be rich to be happy.

Live in the present. Become more mindful and conscious of what’s going on around you.

Continue to move forward and grow and make progress. Work hard and make a difference in somebody’s life, starting with your own.

Stop trying to chase the elusive dream of making a big paycheck and having your happiness hinge on your wealth and income.

You can still be successful with this new mindset. Quit delaying your life for tomorrow and enjoy today. It could be your last.

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22 thoughts on “Delayed Gratification Doesn’t Mean Delaying Your Happiness

  1. Hi Justin,

    Enjoyed reading your post. Money certainly doesn’t buy happiness. I once tried that… and failed and took an overdose. Lucky for me I was found and taken to hospital, stomach pumped etc. I’m here and are viewing life very differently. Thanks for stopping by my blog. Hugs Paula xxx

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    1. Hey Paula,

      Thanks for the comment and thanks for sharing your story! I’m glad you were able to pull through and now have a new outlook on life. Have a great day!

      Like

  2. Hi Justin,

    “Quit racing to be the success that everyone wants you to be.”

    It’s a really nice sentences. I’ve just realized the same thing not long ago. Trying to go to a different way than anybody else around me is quite terrifying but in the end it’s all that matters.

    Have a nice day!

    Like

    1. I agree! It’s pretty intimidating trying to carve your own path, especially while dealing with the outside noise from others.

      I think it’s great that we have to ability to connect with like minded people through blogging and other social media online. It’s makes the process a little less intimidating!

      Thanks for the comment and have a great weekend!

      Like

  3. Justin, this is so rich! After having so much happen to me in life and overcoming, it is so important to me to teach my children and others! Your writing is truly heart felt and I will take time to read again in my quiet time this week. This is a MUST share for anyone who reads this!
    Thank you!

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    1. Karen,

      I want to thank you so much for the kind words! I’m glad you enjoyed the article. It’s great that you can take the lessons you learned in life and pass them on to your children and others. Thanks for the support!

      Have a great day,

      Justin

      Like

  4. That was a really interesting experiment. I heard about it a number of years ago and I think about it a fair amount because I have never been a patient or disciplined person, until I really became conscious of how this had become a living problem for me. Now I can almost say I enjoy delayed gratification because it gives me the opportunity to practice patience and discipline. But sometimes it can feel like a “hurry up a wait ” experience which can be real frustrating, like being put on hold with all the damn muzac! Argh!

    Like

    1. I agree! I think there are benefits to both delaying gratification but also giving into those temptations every once in a while. Unfortunately it’s easy to skew too much towards one side or the other.

      You don’t want to give into all of your temptations, but you also don’t want to feel like you are putting your life on hold. It sounds like you’ve done a good job trying to find a balance between these two.

      Thanks for the comment and have a great day!

      Like

    1. Thank you Sudhir! I’m always glad to connected with other like-minded people. I look forward to reading your blog and hearing from you more.

      Have a great day,

      Justin

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Well Justin, I believe that the measure of success is how happy a person is! As you say living in the present moment instead of striving for something that does not and may never happen is a false premise. Strangely delayed gratification has worked in some ares of my life but the hardest lesson has been to wait for 4 years to sell our house in Spain and move back to England. Patience is a hard lesson but stranger still I have remained happy throughout. when we become aware and recognise that higher level of consciousness which happiness brings we begin to understand what life is all about. Great article Justin and many thanks for the follow of Hanukah & the Angel. Love, David

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    1. Thank you for the comment David!

      I think it’s so important to find a balance when it comes to delayed gratification.

      I think we could all benefit by living in the present moment and not try to rush from one thing to the next. This teaches us to live with that uncertainty in our lives and become more comfortable with it.

      Have a great day!

      Like

  6. Great post, Justin. Thanks for following my blog. I hope it will be a blessing to you just as your posts are obviously to those who follow you. I really enjoyed this one – they are very much in line with my own thoughts.

    Like

  7. The image of that little child petting the marshmallow is just so funny to me! 😀

    You make some great points in this post. I believe self-control is vital to having a happy life. But, as you said, delaying gratification in one situation (IF it’s worth waiting for) doesn’t mean you have to feel miserable in the meantime. If you can’t be happy until you have that thing or meet that goal, then you won’t be happy when you finally get it, either.

    This post goes right along with the entire theme of my blog. It immediately made me think of a video I put together entitled “Looking for Happiness in All the Wrong Places.” Thanks for the thought-provoking post, and have a great day! I’m glad I found the time to explore your blog some more.

    Like

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