Delayed Gratification


The ability to delay gratification is necessary for true happiness. It’s a difficult mindset to cultivate, because we are surrounded with opportunities for instant gratification everywhere.

Teaching children (and ourselves) to really think through a potential purchase takes practice. The simple 3 step rule “Stop-Wait-Anticipate” can help. If you step away from the excitement of a purchase, you’ll make a better decision. 

When you are in the moment, if you stop and wait or simply walk away, you might realize you didn’t NEED to have it. If after a pause, you still want it, you’ll know it’s the right decision. Plus, anticipation helps with appreciation.

I was in line at Ulta recently and witnessed a child having a full-blown tantrum near the register. I didn’t want to watch, but I didn’t want to lose my spot in line either, so out of respect for the child and sympathy for the mother, I turned away instead of staring. The little girl was screaming, because she wanted a bag of lipglosses that were kept near the register... for, you know, impulse buying.

This little girl HAD TO HAVE THEM, but Mom emphatically repeated, “NO!”

For what seemed like an eternity, the loud struggle continued. Finally, it was their turn to pay. Just before the cashier pressed the “total” button, the mom threw the bag of glosses on the counter. The cashier swiped them and handed them to the little girl, who took them in silence. 

I like to think she went home and treasured those glosses until the very last twist of the very last one, but my guess is they got lost, one by one, like socks in a dryer.

The interaction made me think of the famous Marshmallow experiment that studied the importance of delaying gratification. In the experiment, 4 year olds were given a choice: They could have one marshmallow OR wait 15 minutes without eating the first one and then receive a second marshmallow.

Those who could delay gratification had fewer behavior problems, better coping skills, better grades in school, and were more trustworthy and reliable.

So, remember to set a good example and practice “Stop-Wait-Anticipate” with your family. You won’t make a big mistake!