Or, Why Instant Gratification Is Good
Why aren’t you always doing what you want?
If you’re like most people, you learned pretty young that you have to sacrifice to get what you want. And that’s very true in our society! Studies have shown that children able to delay gratification at a young age achieve significantly more in adulthood than children who cannot.
Every self-improvement guru has taught some variation of the “no pain, no gain” mantra.
Workout regimens espouse the military credo that “pain is just weakness leaving the body.”
Successful Person™ Elon Musk says “no one ever changed the world in 40 hours a week.”1
But where has that all lead us?
Despite sky-rocketing productivity, humans—especially American humans—are working longer hours than ever (if they’re fortunate enough to be working at all). All in service of producing ever more products that few of us need and fewer of us can afford.
How did we end up here?
The problem is Sacrifice.
The notion that we have to give up what we want today so that we have something in the future is inherently flawed.
Be careful: We’re not saying to forget about our future! So many ills have befallen our planet and society because we haven’t paid enough attention to the consequences of our actions.
But we are willing to pay those consequences because of the notion of sacrifice. We’re willing to clear-cut a forest today, even though it hurts, because it will turn a profit for us tomorrow.
And we have to sacrifice, because our desires are not to be trusted. Our emotions are not to be trusted. Other people are not to be trusted.
Think about saving for retirement. By some estimates2, Americans need to have saved $1 million by age 60 to retire comfortably.
Does that make any sense? That every single American needs to be a millionaire just to survive? Does that seem remotely sustainable?
Only with the story of Sacrifice could that seem like a good benchmark for a society. You have to give up that vacation, that pair of shoes, that latte, that hour playing catch with your kids now, because if you don’t sacrifice, there will be no one to take care of you when you are old. Never mind that you’ll be too old to travel, too stiff to throw a ball, too run-down to contemplate being fashionable.
That all needs to be sacrificed. And that, my friend, is what makes us “successful”.
Is that the world we want to live in? A world of never-ending scarcity, where gratification is delayed long past the point when we even want it?
Or can we change our minds now, today, to live without Sacrifice? What does a society without Sacrifice look like?
Where we can spend an hour gardening, because that is what would feel good today?
Where we can spend two hours in the park with our loved ones, because that is what would feel good today?
Where we can cancel a meeting to hear our grandparents’ stories, because that is what would feel good today?
The solution is Self-Trust
The reason the Story of Sacrifice works so well is that we are taught from a very young age that we cannot trust our desires. We’re taught that feelings are to be conquered by logic, and as such we develop an intense distrust for the Things That Feel Good.
How else can you explain a society where we rarely take vacation days, despite having earned the right to rest?
But that question—”What would feel good right now“—is the key to a much richer way of living.
Sure, at first, you may say “I’d rather have a drink than work on this report a moment longer.” Can you trust yourself to do that? Can you trust the desire for a break? Can you be conscious enough to honor the desire to stop without judgement?
If you knew you could stop working whenever you wanted, would the desire for a drink be as strong?
Trust—deep, radical self-trust—is very difficult to maintain in modern Western society. But as our society evolves, it will become the most important skill to cultivate.
If you can truly trust yourself, it means you can trust others.
And a society made of people that trust themselves and others is a society that no longer needs the concept of Sacrifice.
It’s a society we’d very much like to live in.
Musk, Elon (elonmusk), “There are way easier places to work, but nobody ever changed the world on 40 hours a week”, 26 Nov 2018, 4:49PM. Tweet. ↩
Backman, Maurie. “Do You Need $1 Million to Retire? Maybe.” The Motley Fool, The Motley Fool, 16 July 2017, www.fool.com/retirement/2017/07/16/do-you-need-1-million-to-retire-maybe.aspx. ↩