We all like instant gratification. It must be wired into us. But most thinking adults know that short term advantages can build long term disadvantages. The perils of instant gratification are widely known and understood. At the same time, we also know that a life of total prudence is not particularly attractive. As Aristotle advised, most of us aim for some kind of balance, even if we don’t think about it too much.
I am increasingly convinced that many of our social ills result from too many people having a bad balance, placing too much emphasis on short term gratification and not enough on long term needs. Take obesity, for example. Many pundits make the claim that we have widespread obesity because people are uninformed. Really? I remember the days when Bill Clinton would merrily dive into a Big Mac to the annoyance of scolds everywhere. Think he didn’t know about the nutritional properties of a Big Mac? Should we have created a government program to educate our ignorant President? What nonsense! Most people sometimes indulge themselves in gratifying immediate wants with full knowledge of the longer term problems. No, the problem with obesity is that too many people too often favor immediate gratification.
Similar lines of argument can be made for the financial crisis, the national debt, the cost of health care – on and on and on.
We can’t, and shouldn’t, eliminate sources of immediate gratification. We should strive for Aristotle’s golden mean. Individually, and collectively, we have missed the mark. I can’t imagine any way that government can help correct our imbalance. It’s a moral struggle that must be won one person at a time.
- Delaying Gratification (thriftysocialworker.com)