19 April, 2013

Delayed gratification is over-rated**

My parents’ generation here in New Zealand adhered to the principles of the Protestant work ethic - my father-in-law 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 continue with IVF and 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). Shouldn't we appreciate what we have, 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? In No Kidding terms, shouldn't we 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.  
** For those of you who follow A Separate Life, apologies for the double posting.


  1. I'm sorry that your husband has been made redundant, but I love your attitude. Taking the time and using it as an opportunity for something different sounds like a nice sensible approach, rather than a rushed panic'd must find a job, any job, one that could lead to a wrong decision. I wish you both the best of luck.

  2. Sorry about your husband's situation. LOVE this beautiful post. I think moving to Finland AND infertility have helped me A LOT in enjoying the present MUCH more, because in the past I'd always been a planner (born as one and raised as one - loved planning WAYYYY ahead of time so much so that a close friend once said that this aspect in myself was scary for her).

  3. "We are now more comfortable with the present than the future."

    So very well said. There's nothing I can add, so I'll just thank you for this reminder and look forward to hearing what you do with your next few months.

  4. dear Mali,
    I love love your sentence: "present is here and now and needs to be lived". I couldn't agree more.

    I am sorry about your husband being made redundant. And I agree - attitude Let's make lemonade is perfect.

    Last year I wrote about my beloved Wolf, the master of living in a moment: http://thenext15000days.blogspot.com/2012/02/master-of-living-in-moment-meet-wolf.html

    I still think the same - I still have so much to learn from him!

    And - I am looking forward to your plans being revealed.

    lots of love from sLOVEnia!

  5. I agree you can't put everything off. And nobody knows what the future will bring, so it's important to act now. Of course, sometimes priorities have to be set. I really want to do another international trip, but with the spectre of IVF hovering on the horizon, and hubby (hopefully) going to grad school in the fall, I'm making my plans a little more conservative. However, I think it would be a mistake to not do *anything* fun or *any* trips because of the other plans.

    As far as indulgence goes, my line is that it's OK as long as it doesn't cause a whole bunch of extra problems for myself or somebody else. I think if people are making a burden of themselves by indulging, then it's too much. But responsible adults making the choice to have fun....go for it

  6. I'm sorry about your husband's work situation but I think it's awesome that you are embracing the unknown with gusto and not fear. I can't wait to hear what you're planning on doing!

  7. This past week my brother and sister-in-law have been talking about retirement. My sister plans on retiring at around 55. My brother's a bit older, but will be probably retiring around the same time (they have kids, the youngest of which will be out of college in 2 years). I told them I have no plans to retire. I don't. I said, if I can, I'll keel over while lecturing, and give my students something to remember. People usually count having more money and retiring early as one of the benefits of not having kids. Well, not so in my case... I managed to go back to school at 35 for a PhD... that took way too long to complete, took out student loans, and have still to find a full time position. That, along with infertility, led to years of anxiety and sleeplessness. Till this year. I'm embracing the now! The way I see it, I have already traveled more than most people I know, I've gone to school to pursue a field I like, I enjoy teaching (though not the pay for adjuncts... hopefully this will only be temporary), I have found a renewed passion for reading, gardening and cooking... what would I do when retired, that I'm not doing now, or haven't done already, except not work. I've done that, too, and I prefer some level of activity, seeing other people, getting out of the house. So, as long as I'm healthy... I hope to continue doing everything I'm doing now till I keel over in front of that class and traumatize everybody else. You go ahead an embrace the now... As you so aptly (as usual) stated, you can't always count on life to unravel as you expect it to.

  8. I love this post; it's a great reminder that nothing is given, especially these days. I'm afraid I've absorbed my share of that Protestant work ethic guilt... dh has gone over & over the numbers and says we can retire in less than three years, when I'm 55. I don't want to have to work any longer than I really need to, but at the same time, I worry about winding up as a bag lady. I have some very long-lived relatives on my side; it's quite possible that if I retire at 55 I could still live for another 30 or 40 years.

    That said, I could be hit by a bus tomorrow. And I've waited for that damned marshmallow long enough (lol -- what a great line, thank you!!).

    I'm sorry to hear about your dh's job... it seems like no job is secure these days. :p But I'm looking forward to the big reveal of whatever it is that you're planning. ;)

  9. Ooooh all intrigued now. I love your perspective. I never really thought of delaying gratification from thsi angle before, but another conversation I had this week has made me think about the 'how long is too long' (completely unrelated matters to any of this).

    I agree with Torthúil, or where I *think* they are coming from - that it depends on the 'cost' (not necessarily financial) or implications of the need for instant gratification - ie how 'conscious' it is.

  10. I am sorry that your husband is being made redundant, but I really admire your "make lemonade" attitude.

    I'm another who leans towards instant gratification, even though I was brought up not to give in to it. But for years (since my bff died) I've been calling it "seizing the day" and that makes it more acceptable (to my own mind!)

  11. Sorry that your husband lost his job, what a healthy outlook you have on it! That's the way to be. Being in the moment is so important in life. I too have had my health issues that reminded me of the shortness of life and led me to make changes before they were financially ideal. But, it all keeps working out. I think people let fear keep them in this "one day..." mentality or scurrying around for a new job instantly because they are used to routine and change is frightening. Good on you for being able to embrace that and balance planning with the moment.