Maybe you have heard of this one already: “The Marshmallow Study.” It refers to the social dynamics study done 40 years ago in which a small child is put into a study room. On the table in front of the child is one marshmallow. The child is told that she can have the one marshmallow…or…if she waits a specified amount of time, she will receive two marshmallows. The instructor leaves the room and the child stares at the marshmallow. The study question is: Will the child give in to instant gratification or wait for an enhanced delayed gratification?
I heard of a similar experiment undertaken which was reported on Morning America on NPR. A social scientist became aware of differing patterns of parking cars in a parking space. He noted that in other countries (especially China) drivers are more inclined to back their car into a space with a barrier on the back of it. In the United States, he found, drivers are more inclined to drive in face-first, leaving the hard part for later when they have to back out into a barely-visible line of traffic. The analysis he provides is that we Americans are more inclined to gamble on instant gratification (the ease of driving in front-first) and willing to leave the hard part for later. Other, like the Chinese, are willing to delay the gratification, knowing it will be easier to drive out face first.
Both of these studies have to do with comparing the impulse one may have to receive pleasure immediately, or to be willing to delay it until a later time for greater pleasure. We Americans don’t do well on this test.
There is a societal propensity for Americans to want things now…not later. We want it instantly. We are so tuned into 24 hour a day cable news that we want to know everything NOW. We prefer food that can be microwaved NOW so we don’t have to wait for it to cook on the stove top or in the oven. We want our rice to cook NOW, not in 40 minutes. We want our Income Tax returns NOW, not a couple of weeks from now, even if it costs us exorbitant fees. The list goes on forever. I have to offer a personal disclosure and admit that I include myself in some of these examples. I love instant rice, for instance.
NOW is the best time of all. There is a moral and preferential bias among many Americans that the present is far more important and palatable than the past or the future…even if that future is only minutes away. The past is discredited in many circles in favor of glorifying the present. The future will take care of itself. Right now I need that item, and I can’t wait another moment to get it.
The fallacy in this is so obvious that it almost doesn’t need stating. But here goes, anyway. Those of us who so revel in the present will pay the price in the future. This is most alarming in areas like finance, environmental issues, and matters of race. The future depends upon our honoring it…now. Delayed gratification will be experienced by our children and our grandchildren and their future generations. That is the pleasure that we receive now. That is our instant gratification. Knowing that we have done something intelligent and altruistic which will benefit them.
Illustration Credit: pushtechnology.com