By Karis Pearson
It’s Thursday evening, the week’s dragging on and you’re just really not in the mood to cook yourself a meal in your festering student kitchen. You pull out your phone, you know exactly what to do. This, is a scenario that is consistently unfolding more frequently for people all over the Westernised world, not merely a behaviour reserved for us lazy students in Cathays, as the opportunity to get what we want in just one-click, becomes increasingly accessible.
In the post-food delivery era, the easy fix options were limited; perhaps a pizza delivery or a take away Chinese, but nowadays our choices far exceed anything our grandparents could have imagined. From perusing the ramen offered at Wagamama, to ordering a KFC straight to the front door, our ability to gratify ourselves instantly, and often in just the click of a button, is officially open for business.
The modern conveniences we’ve found ourselves surrounded by go far beyond getting dinner. Next-day delivery, scrollable social media, pills to make us feel momentarily better; these are all inventions and adaptations which make modern life as easy as possible for us. We like to feel gratified and in the moment it’s a brilliant feeling, and one which is only getting easier to achieve.
However, in line with these innovations, our wants and expectations have also adapted, leaving us constantly wanting for instant fixes and gratifications, where we might be better off to take our time, put in extra thought and just be patient.
Binging TV shows and social media like we’re starving and it’s an endless hot meal will rarely, if ever, make us feel better about ourselves. Yet for many of us its a regular activity of choice. When we are consuming so much from our social apps, the ever growing collection of Netflix titles and 24-hour news sphere, are we taking the time to reflect upon each new thing we read or watch, and how it makes us feel? Or, are we merely swallowing it and digesting more and more, hoping that in the end, it will make us happy?
As a matter of fact, we more likely to feel worse when we binge the things we love, rather than enjoy them in moderation; a reality put down to pure biology, which proves evidence that instant gratification does not create lasting happiness.
As I imagine any good sociology student is aware, the 1960’s and 70’s saw Stanford University researcher Walter Mischel test instant versus deferred gratification in a study involving 4-year-olds and marshmallows – which can be found replicated across the internet with extremely adorable results. For anyone unfamiliar with the study, children were each given a marshmallow, and told they could eat their marshmallow there and then or wait for 15 minutes and receive a second marshmallow. Sounds like a simple set of options, but what each outcome told Mischel about the child’s chances at future happiness, was enormous.
Mischel discovered that the children who put off eating their marshmallow for longer, did so because they possessed more sophisticated impulse controls than the others. The benefits this gave the patient children in later life was significant; they were less likely to suffer from depression or obesity, get divorced or use drugs, and were found to have higher levels of self esteem and worth. Biology really is to blame here, for it is our brain that decides the strength of our short-term desires, thanks to a left-over biological trait from our caveman and cavewoman ancestry.
When we are satisfied by a short-term desire being fulfilled, our brain responds by releasing a thrilling shot of dopamine, a chemical which can have damaging after effects for our mental health. Dopamine, essentially a powerful chemical which puts humans and animals at its mercy, is the reason why we have to be careful when it comes to satisfying ourselves whenever we feel like it.
If we apply the principles and discoveries of Mischel’s marshmallow experiment to our currently ever-modernising lives, logic concludes we would actually be happier if we didn’t order a Deliveroo regularly or choose the speediest delivery when making purchases on a whim. We would, according to his findings, feel more fulfilled and less depressed if our social media apps weren’t updating every second. Unfortunately for us, society is increasingly structured around coercing us towards not just wanting, but expecting, instant gratifications, in all sectors, from our food habits, to our information consumption, and even our medical issues.
Most of us shop online nowadays; it is incredibly tempting to have the option to go online, choose almost anything we want, and in just a day or two, see it appear on our doorstep, as if by magic. It is a convenience many of us wouldn’t want to give up. But, what if waiting a little longer (or even going outside to the shops instead) could actually prove the better choice for both individual happiness and the environment?
Mischel’s studies in gratification tell us all we need to know about waiting a little longer for the benefits, but the environmental implications of one-click gratifications, like Amazon next-day delivery or free two-day shipping, are bigger than many of us realise. When we click the speediest shipping options, we are sending more delivery vans out onto the road, meaning more greenhouse gas emissions. Online shopping puts a greater strain on the planet in a whole variety of ways, but ultimately by encouraging us to forget about the long-term effects of our decision to click.
Want your packages as soon as tomorrow? Want a KFC right now? Apps encourage us to take up these offers without considering their consequences. But, if there is anything human kind did not need for its health, environment and general well-being, then undoubtedly, it is a KFC delivery. Our expectations of what we can have, almost instantly and often in just one-click, is creating a world of 4-year-olds who cannot bring themselves to wait for that second marshmallow, despite knowing the benefits being patient could bring them in the long-term.
We need to slow down, take our time and reflect upon which direction we want our lives to go, considering whether having all our desires literally at the click of a button, is as good for us as it sometimes may seem.
Now, as this is our last full issue of Gair Rhydd this academic year, it means it is also my last column of the year. I’ve absolutely loved writing every week, whether it was something that struck me in the news, or a moral question I had playing on my mind, Column Road has been a welcome outlet for my thoughts and hopefully for yours too. If you read these columns every week, or if this is the first time you’ve ever picked up Gair Rhydd, thank you for reading, I hope you enjoyed the discussion and perhaps it gave you a perspective different than your own.