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The Real Issue With Instant Gratification

How quick-fix thinking creates problems in the modern world.

Thomas Ulrich/Pixabay
Source: Thomas Ulrich/Pixabay

The term “instant gratification” has become a fixture in the modern lexicon. Examples are everywhere. Our food, entertainment, online shopping, and even dating have been engineered to make it incredibly easy for us to obtain whatever we want in increasingly short order.

Having our desires quickly met isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But as it pertains to the spread of quick-fix solutions in the digital age, there are several reasons why certain instant gratification-fueled, impulsive behaviors may be detracting from our health and quality of life. To start, we need to appreciate how they influence our brains.

Our brains are constantly changing in response to what we do and the things we pay attention to. For example, each time we impulsively eat an unhealthy snack or buy something online, our brain pathways for those actions are reinforced and strengthened, making it easier to fall into the same patterns the next time around and harder to break the cycle.

This is worthy of consideration because many of the activities that promote instant gratification are linked to unhealthy behaviors. Over time, the ability to quickly satisfy a desire for low-quality, disease-inducing foods takes a real toll on our bodies. The unrestrained purchasing of whatever online good piques our interest creates a major burden on our credit card statement, and our constant drive to check in on social media, even while spending time with friends and family, lowers the quality of our in-person interactions.

Additionally, as we continue our quest for rewarding quick fixes, we start to experience a dopamine surge in our brains long before we actually experience any reward, and the craving associated with dopamine release hits us early, too. So now, just driving by your favorite fast-food restaurant or seeing your phone nearby is enough to induce powerful cravings, making it more challenging to break an unhealthy habit.

In the bigger picture, the more we overvalue instant gratification, the more likely we are to be distracted from longer-term, more meaningful goals. The constant checking of our social accounts or our exposure to auto-play features on streaming TV makes it difficult to maintain focus on actions that create long-term success and happiness.

In summary, over-reliance on instant gratification behaviors can create problems by changing our brains, distracting us from more meaningful pursuits, and leading to destructive financial, social, and health outcomes. And while this should not be taken to mean that we can’t enjoy the conveniences of the modern world, we need to be more conscious about the context, frequency, and consequences of this type of decision-making.

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