Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should

For all of us, there is one key question. Do we opt for pleasure now, or delay it for later? The concept of waiting for gratification has been under attack for some time. The motor car, the jet plane, the television, the microwave oven, the internet and now multiple and instant access TV streaming channels, and food delivery apps have all been step-changes in upping the pace of it.

You want something? You can have it now. You don’t have to wait until 7.30pm to watch your favourite soap. A few clicks and it is playing live whenever and wherever you want. You don’t have to wait until next week to watch the next episode. Watch it now. In fact, download and gorge on the whole series in a single day if you want to. If you need information it is in your hand within seconds. You don’t have to go to a café or shop for food, it can come to you via bike courier within 20 minutes. Our tolerance for delay, our ability to be patient, to put in effort to gain rewards are all qualities being systematically eroded.

The ‘now’ culture, the ‘get famous quick’ society tells us to live in the moment, capture it on our ‘phone cameras and publish it for all to see. It asks why wait? This time tomorrow you could be globally trending. We subscribe to all sorts of adages, things like ‘you only live once’. Time, we are told is running out, insufficient even for all the things we are being told we want to do. The result is we make deliberate efforts to pack things into our days like an overstuffed suitcase.

The technological facilitation of instant gratification has waged war on any sense of delayed pleasure. It is a high-tech industrial lifestyle revolution. This goes a long way to diminishing any sense of purposefully and diligently working hard and with intent to an identified goal.

With lockdown, we have no choice but to wait. So many things are delayed. Where is the pleasure anymore? When will gratification occur? In Leicester, it feels like we are suspended in aspic. Stuck in time, patiently waiting for lockdown to be relaxed so we are like everywhere else in the world.

For some time I have been talking about how I thought society has been subconsciously preparing for harder times to come. We have been bingeing on stuff and food because we knew on one level different painful times were ahead. The id, as Freud would put it, our basic selves, is driven by the ‘pleasure principle’ that seeks out pleasure so we avoid the pain. And the pain people are trying to avoid is this cumulative sense of our demise, personally, as a community, a culture, a nation, a global species. We are given constant messages about the challenges experienced in the natural world; habit destruction, species extinction, and population migration (animal and human). Human population growth is so out of control we realise that one day the good times will end and rationing and restrictions of all resources will be put in place. Our young people are so anxious about it their mental health difficulties and anxiety levels are through the roof.

So humanity’s response, typically, has been ‘let’s feast now before famine follows’. Its like a bountiful summer and autumn before a hard winter ahead. We feel we shouldn’t delay gratification, because it simply might not be possible in the future. Whenever that is. And we all hold different constructs of what the future is. For some it feels like a distant concept, for others it is an all too brief prospect. Little did I realise the forces of such limits would manifest so soon and so profoundly with the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020.

So why wouldn’t everyone reach out for pleasure? Why feel guilty or judgemental about it? Pleasure is an escape from reality, it is a diversion, and getaway. It’s so dreamily tempting. Surely we all need that? The trouble is, it doesn’t really help any sense of long-term planning for the future. Its childlike, not ‘adultlike’. When we are young, we operate through the pleasure principle and expect immediate fulfilment. Then it’s all about basic needs, milk, food and comfort. We expect the breast, and protest when it is withdrawn (Klein). Later on in life it is still about our basic food and drink needs, with the addition of sex and the procreation urge. Something that has fed into a global population growth pandemic.

But as time marches on, we learn that we need to wait for gratification. It’s how we build resilience. And lockdown has forced our hand in direct and obvious contrast to our pre-pandemic lust for the instant and convenient. It has truly upped the ante. Much is said about the negative effects of the pandemic. There are potential benefits to reap. Many say delayed gratification is one of the most effective attributes of successful people and their jobs, lives, physical and mental health. But how long do we have to wait? Because we just weren’t used to waiting anymore. Until now.

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