I've been teaching some PSHE lessons with Year 11 and decided to focus on wellbeing in a modern world. It opened a can of worms of thoughts and observations. The first of which was how quickly we've made more and more of our lives instantly gratifying.
Walter Mischel figured out the problems with instant gratification, or more accurately, the benefits of delaying gratification, in the late 1960's and early 1970's. His 'marshmallow experiment' is still famous ( worth looking up if it's unfamiliar). His findings showed that those able to wait and delay gratification in childhood went on to lead more successful lives. They were better able to deal with change, face and recover from challenges, were confident, self-sufficient and generally well rounded people. But this was in the 60's and 70's. How much more does the challenge of instant gratification present itself in today's society?
How often do we turn to an online search engine instead of waiting it out when we can't remember the name of someone or the answer to something? And yet, how much more satisfying is it to have the answer on the tip of your tongue for hours and then, out of nowhere, it comes back to you?
Online shopping means we don't need to wait for a free Saturday afternoon when we can make it to the shops to treat ourselves and moreover, next day delivery means we even starve ourselves of the anticipation of our purchases' arrival.
No more do we have to wait a week speculating on the next plot twist of our favourite TV programme. We can stream a whole series at a time whenever suits us, whether at home or on the go.
Perhaps the most transformed area of our lives is communication. Writing and posting letters is very nearly a thing of the past. As are phone calls in the evenings or at the weekends when you were both home, next to the landline. In fact, with social media as it is, specifically the trend of documenting and publishing every moment of life's mundanities, there's less of a need to communicate at all, as we already know the minutiae of each other's days.
It's struck me that, if Mischel was concerning himself with this 50 years ago, how much more is it an issue for us today? How much harder is it to avoid instant gratification when we have the internet at our fingertips? This problem goes far and beyond a new generation of fast food and 4g. I wonder whether we have truly understood the potential impact this fast forward lifestyle will have on us and generations to come.
The saving grace as I see it is travel. If ever there was a reason to take the train, this is it.