It is often said that we live in a culture of instant gratification. Recently, I went to buy a lottery ticket – I often do so, but on this occasion the shop was packed with people. The lottery had ‘rolled over’ to 100 million dollars, and so the place was full of people hoping to get rich over night. Who doesn’t want to get rich quick?
In a sense, instant gratification is not a bad thing – our distant ancestors had to gratify themselves pretty instantly because they might not otherwise have survived to do whatever it was they were doing again. We are hardwired to seek out pleasurable experiences and to find gratification in them. As infants, we are little more than bundles of pleasure seeking reflexes, crying and screaming when we experience the pain of not getting our own way immediately. After a few years, we become more fully aware that we often cannot have things our own way all the time, and we begin the process of adapting to this difficult reality.
As the years go by, we often come to believe that not getting what we want is overwhelmingly the natural order of things, and many – perhaps most – people simply give up on the dreams and aspirations they once had. It seems to be a cruel trick of nature – to set up a desire for gratification and then thwart our ability to achieve it.
We are bombarded with advertising messages which encourage a culture of instant gratification and, as such, which foster a kind of perpetual disappointment and dissatisfaction. Many people turn to drink, drugs, casual sex or other forms of vice to experience some kind of pleasure; others turn to religion or other belief systems to achieve a sense that they can have what they want – peace, joy, meaning in life.
I went to a talk a few months ago and the speaker began by saying that ‘change was hard.’ The speaker, a rather overweight lady, gently poked fun at herself, saying that, if change were easy, she would be thin! Many of us can identify with this sentiment, which is why the speaker used it to raise a chuckle and build rapport with the audience.
Change – the right kind of change; getting what we want – can seem impossible and, in our ‘instant’ culture, we either give up on the idea completely or begin to think that ‘revolution’ might be right approach. How many websites and books out there promise quick, easy and momentous change? How many people bought ‘The Secret’ and thought they could make huge and positive changes quickly and effortlessly by simply changing their thoughts? How many people buy lottery tickets every week hoping that change will come suddenly and without effort?
People trying to lose weight or get fit often use this approach. They start off enthusiastically, dieting aggressively or spending hours each week in the gym, only to get tired, burned out and disillusioned when they either don’t get fast results or when their achievements get reversed so easily.
When it becomes apparent revolution usually doesn’t happen – and certainly not in any way that we can control or predict – we can become disheartened and depressed. How can change ever happen? How can I lose weight? How can I get out of debt? How can I become more confident, sociable? How can I improve my health? Is there any hope?
It is possible. The story of the Scottish singer Susan Boyle, plucked from complete obscurity and set on the road to international fame and wealth is one of many examples which could be given to make the point that sudden and massive change is possible. Every day (or certainly almost every day), someone wins a lottery and becomes rich. People get suddenly and miraculously cured of disease. But this is rare – it is not my experience, and it is probably not your experience. Change, it seems, is difficult after all.
And by the way, I didn’t win the lottery.
This is an excerpt from a ‘Getting the Life you Want,’ forward by best-selling author Raymond Aaron. Download the entire book for free at http://changeyourlife.net/books/getting-the-life-you-want/