Short-Term Gratification vs. Long-Term Happiness

“Instant gratification takes too long”

— Carrie Fisher, Postcards from the Edge

It’s a new year, so of course everyone is making resolutions and plans and promises.

Most of us know at least one person that spent the last two months eating too much, drinking too much, and washing it all down with leftover Halloween candy but is now vowing to live on a diet of lettuce and lemon water while also running fifteen miles per day and saving ninety percent of their income.

It’s natural to want to mock this person, but I’d bet that we’ve all been there at least in some capacity. While we know what the smart choices are we’ve purposefully made the bad ones. We ordered the burger instead of the salad at lunch. We hit the ATM and kept the night alive instead of going home. We ate out for dinner instead of cooking at home. We spent our money or put it towards a vacation instead of retirement.

The worst part? We know better.

We know that these decisions are detrimental to our long-term health and happiness, but we do them because they make us feel better right now. Yes, sacrifices today will often lead to a better, healthier tomorrow. But today is now, so why wait? The problem, of course, is that you’re eventually left with no more tomorrows and a pile of misused yesterdays.

There has been a ton of data, research, and writing on this subject, most notably the “Marshmallow Test,” and there are entire industries like personal finance advice and diet programs that pull in billions of dollars annually because we can’t seem to stop ourselves from ourselves.

I call it “fuck it” effect.

And I am not too proud to admit that it has had me in its clutches countless times.

My favorite restaurateur just opened a new spot that is outside of my price range? Fuck it, let’s put it on the credit card.

We just left the bar and are hungry? Fuck it, let’s hit the diner and have some greasy food.

I need to buy a new book to read on a trip? Fuck it, let’s buy ten.

Problem? We’ll figure it out tomorrow.

Some of this is poor planning and some of it is the result of capricious youth, but there’s also some of it that can be a result of our emotional state.

If you’re still in the office at midnight or studying at 2 a.m. or have been up with the baby since four o’clock in the morning, you may need something to get you through, regardless of the downsides. You know it’s not the best decision, but it may be difficult not to treat yourself, particularly since you’ve already been sacrificing for so long.

And in a world full of stress, fear, and uncertainty, sometimes wings and fries just make us happier than apples and strawberries.

For now. Tomorrow, we will probably feel differently.

And that’s when the cycle begins again.


Christopher Pierznik’s nine books are available in paperback and Kindle. His work has appeared on XXL, Cuepoint, Business InsiderThe CauldronMedium, Fatherly, Hip Hop Golden Age, and many more. Subscribe to his monthly newsletter or follow him on Facebook or Twitter.

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