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Delayed Gratification is The Secret of Human Civilisation

Published: 22nd August 2015 06:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 22nd August 2015 12:55 AM   |  A+A-

When I used to go out to a restaurant with my gang of friends, I often observed a peculiar thing. One of my friends was fond of north Indian cuisine and would always order his favourite Naan and Paneer Butter Masala. He used to take small pieces of Naan and very little of Paneer Butter Masala or in fact, just touch the gravy with a small piece of Naan and eat. Finally, he would finish the Naans but, leave a few Paneer pieces and a little bit of gravy on his plate. We used to laugh at his behaviour. I once demanded an explanation. He replied that he liked Paneer very much, and wanted the taste of Paneer pieces to linger in his mouth at the end of the meal.

The way you go about eating the dishes tells a lot about the type of person you are. Some prefer to start with their favourite  and keep their least favourite to the last. Others like my friend prefer the last bite to be the best and the tastiest. They prefer what psychologists call deferred or delayed gratification. They are the type who, instead of accepting a smaller reward immediately, prefer to wait for some time (may be, years) to reap a more valuable reward.

In the 1960s and 1970s, a famous experiment called “Marshmallow experiment” was carried out by an American psychologist Walter Mischel at the Stanford University. He presented a few four-year-old children with marshmallow (a sugar-based candy) and told them they had two options: either they could ring a bell, call the experimenter and eat one marshmallow or wait for 15 minutes until the experimenter returns and earn two marshmallows. Some kids wouldn’t wait and ate one marshmallow but some delayed gratification and earned two marshmallows. When these very same kids grew up to become teenagers and adults and were re-evaluated, it was found that the kids, who had preferred to wait and earned two marshmallows, thus preferring delayed gratification, were found to be coping up with stress in a better way. They had higher SAT score and self-worth and were more mature compared to their peers.

So, find out what type are you. Are you the type of person, who prefers to buy the latest smart phone/tablet or LED television using a plastic credit card instantly and pay interest later? Or do you prefer delayed gratification, i.e. save money every month and buy a better model with advanced features of your favourite gadget a few months later and feel a sense of accomplishment?

Sometimes, people who delay gratification deny themselves the simple pleasures of life. But I guess, each person is wired differently. Your preference for instant or delayed gratification is driven by your personality and is inherent in you and very difficult to change.  If we look back through history, we find that civilisation has progressed because of a very small percentage of human population preferring delayed gratification. Many scientific breakthroughs were possible because of some dedicated souls who didn’t bother about the simple every day pleasures of life. They always had the vision of the bigger picture, their ultimate dream, their one pulsating desire in mind and worked dedicatedly for decades which ultimately bore fruit.

Had these people opted for instant gratification, we wouldn’t have been enjoying the comforts of life which we enjoy today. Sir Isaac Newton took several painstaking years to invent calculus and discover the law of gravity. Once his dog, diamond, upset a burning candle and all his notes on an experiment he had conducted for 20 years were burnt. He had to re-do a lot of things. Alex Haley, author of the famous Roots, researched for 10 years for the book. It took 22 patient years to construct the architectural marvel, the Taj Mahal.

Why the world would have missed a cricketing legend had our very own Sachin Tendulkar, in his younger formative years, opted for simple pleasures like sleeping more instead of sacrificing his sleep, waking up at 4 a.m. and going for the rigorous practice sessions at 5 a.m. If you are working on a project or have a mission to accomplish or a big dream to realise but feel that despite your best efforts, life is giving you a raw deal, don’t lose hope. Just remember: Life’s delays are not life’s denials. So, change your strategy and keep trying!

 tskarthik13@yahoo.com

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