My parents’ generation here in New Zealand adhered to the principles of the Protestant work ethic – and I can point to one elderly gentleman I know in particular. He believes the point of life is to work. Your duty is to work. Leisure is just an excuse for laziness. Extravagance is wicked. Etc etc. I have watched him work, and retire, and don’t see that this belief in these principles have brought him much happiness. Perhaps they did when he was at work, and had children at home. But not in the last 20+ years. Despite that, delayed gratification is always portrayed as a noble state. Not just by him, but by a lot of society in general.
On the other hand, instant gratification has always been portrayed as being selfish, or rash, or extravagant, or indulgent. All very negative connotations. Yes, I know all the arguments, and all the research about the advantages in store for the child who chooses to wait for the marshmallow. But you know, I’ve waited for the marshmallow long enough. I waited for the marshmallow children, not rushing into anything, waiting till we were financially stable, and until everything felt right, only to find that I’d probably waited too long. As a result, I’m no longer a fan of delayed gratification.
My ectopic pregnancies reminded me that I am very mortal. Infertility and subsequent health issues reminded both my husband and I that, whilst we have been very fortunate in life, we are not invulnerable. Anything could happen to us at any time. I see that in the lives of friends and family, and every night on the evening news. We never know when that texting driver is going to ram into us, when an earthquake or cancer or something we’ve never heard of might strike, when our lives might change irreversibly, or end completely.
So whilst planning is still important to us, we don’t defer our gratification to some distant time when we will have more money, better health, more time etc. Because we know that we might never have more money, time or better health than we do right now. Sometimes we succumb to the instant gratification = bad pressure, and feel guilty. We look back at our international travel the last ten years, and shudder when we work out how much it has all cost us. But we also know how much it would have cost to raise children, figure that we’re breaking even, and shrug and book another trip! But I know others consider us to be extravagant. After all, we’re not rich. But are we extravagant? Maybe. But does that mean we are bad, selfish, indulgent? I don’t think so, even if others do.
But the work ethic proponents also believe that we should “never put off tomorrow what you can do today.” So I want to argue that, within reason, we can apply that to leisure and lifestyle issues as well as hard work (or doing my taxes, sigh). Shouldn’t we appreciate what we have or who we have in our lives today, rather than waiting till tomorrow to appreciate them? Or worse, to tell those we love how much we appreciate them? Shouldn’t all of us embrace our lives today, rather than waiting till tomorrow, next month, next year?
I’ve been thinking about this because my husband is being made redundant. We have two choices of action. We could run around furiously and get jobs or contracts that make us miserable but bring in some cash. We could worry, panic, and stress about the future. We could choose to hunker down and be conservative. We have friends who have counselled us to do this. My in-laws will definitely counsel us to do this. (Or they will gossip about our recklessness behind our backs).
Or we could say “let’s make lemonade” and take the opportunity to do something completely different, even if just for a few months. And that’s what we’re most likely going to do. Because ultimately, we are now more comfortable with the present than the future. We’re not actually reckless, and we’re not terrified of the future either. But we acknowledge that the future might not come as we plan it, and the present is here and now and needs to be lived. And so that’s what we’re going to do.
And I look back, and know that my infertility history, as well as more recent difficulties, helped me come to this position. I’m comfortable with it. I’m going to take my gratification now, thank you very much. I am not going to wait.*
* All will be revealed, once decisions have been made.