The pursuit of long-term satisfaction over instant gratification

Often times, in this day and age, our desire to ease stress and feel good fast leads to behaviors that offer instant gratification only to fight back later with long-term consequences.

Eating junk food
Binging social media, Netflix, YouTube
Retail therapy

These behaviors, while they feel good in the moment, can lead to disease, depression, weight gain, financial strain, and more.  And yet, they’re incredibly difficult to avoid because they’re wildly accessible, relentlessly advertised, and socially accepted.  Astronomical profits are made from promoting these habits that ultimately lead to illness and unhappiness.  Sadly, once we’re in this cycle, it feeds itself.  Instant gratification offers short-lived hits of relief that end in a come down that leaves us wanting more of the thing that made us feel good fast.

In various chapters of my life I have pushed the limits of drinking alcohol, binge eating, and compulsive social media use.  Moderation doesn’t come easily for me so I tend to get caught in self-destructive loops when I turn to one of my vices to escape stress.  The negative effects that result have inspired me to experiment with how to feel good without the negative consequences.  

Numbing vs. nurturing

Why do we seek instant gratification?  I think it’s because we want to feel something other than what we’re feeling.  Whether it be boredom, angst, stress, grief, overwhelm, anxiety; we want relief.  So we turn to the nearest, easiest thing that will ease the discomfort. Our world offers a myriad ways to make that happen fast.  This is numbing.  This hardly addresses the root of the problem but is quite effective in the short-term.

I think what we’re ultimately seeking is comfort, relaxation, happiness, courage, self-esteem, hope, and love.  I believe these things can be cultivated by nurturing ourselves with healthy habits.  Nurturing is showing up for ourselves day after day and choosing acts of self-love (disguised as work) over acts of self-destruction (disguised as comfort).  

Nurturing is the long-term investment that compounds over time.  Numbing is what the gambling world calls “losses disguised as wins”.

As we get older, Mark & I are inspired to put more effort into nurturing.  Something about being in our 40s has made us more sensitive to the side effects of bad habits.  Which has us looking ahead to the future and how we want to feel in our 50s.  We’d prefer healthy, capable bodies to continue doing the things that bring us long-term satisfaction.  

In the last few months of consecutively making good choices for ourselves we’re noticing a snowball effect.  Good choices lead to feeling genuinely good and feeling good leads to good choices.  

A few examples of what this looks like for us…
  • Cooking healthy meals rather than eating out
  • Reading a book rather than scrolling social media
  • Choosing to learn a new skill or create something rather than consume
  • Yoga, long walks, and anything that gets us outside

Of course there are still voices in our head trying to lure us towards the alcohol and the junk food and the endless scroll of social media.  But the more we deprive those voices, the quieter they get.  And anytime I’m compelled to reach for the easiest source of comfort I remind myself…

Easy choices, hard life
Hard choices, easy life

While it takes work, it’s beginning to feel like it is possible to build some level of immunity to the things we’re attracted to that are ultimately bad for us.  We’re analyzing the discomfort that accompanies cravings and learning how to let the discomfort exist rather than treating it like a problem that needs to be solved. The feeling often passes quickly, especially once you build your delayed gratification muscle.  Creating space between the craving and the response is a really powerful exercise and allows yourself the opportunity to make better decisions.

While it’s important to leverage some strategies that will help reduce or eliminate a bad habit or addiction, I believe breaking free begins with awareness.  Take some time to observe your behavior.  Don’t criticize yourself, get curious instead.  Why are you reaching for the thing in the first place?  How does it make you feel when you’re done using or consuming it?  Is there a neutral or healthy behavior you could engage with first, before you give in to the pull towards instant gratification?  

Making better choices and forming healthy habits is lifelong work.  Albeit work that can lead to beautiful outcomes.  Our modern world is ripe with temptation, but we do have it within us to change.   May this article bring some self-awareness free of self-judgement.  We all deserve to live healthy, happy lives.

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We’re Mark & Michele, modern-day nomads perfecting the art of slow, full-time travel.  Our tiny home on wheels and slow-paced travel style allows us to minimize our expenses while maximizing our freedom.  May our unconventional way of life inspire you to design a life that you love.


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