The Addiction of Immediate Gratification

I really enjoy a big gulp of orange juice. That mix of tartness and sweetness across my tongue is just sublime.

I relish the feeling I get from pulling the plastic off of a new board game and popping out all of the pieces. The smell, the sound, and the tactile feeling all bring me joy.

I like the sense of fullness I get after a really delicious meal, where I sit around the table with friends nursing a beverage and having a great conversation.

I love that twinge of pleasure from a scone that’s been dipped in coffee.

These little pleasures are nice things, but they each last for only a moment or two before they drift away.

Although the specifics of that little pleasure are usually forgotten, we implant a little memory in ourselves, one that simply tells us that the experience is a good one and that we want it.

So we seek it out, again and again.

The distressing part? I’ve found that the more often I repeat one of those little momentary pleasures, the less enjoyable it is, yet the desire to repeat that pleasure doesn’t go away.

If I have orange juice every day, I don’t appreciate it as much. I come to expect it.

If I pop open a new board game regularly, I lose some of the appreciation. It becomes normal.

If I eat a big meal too often, I begin to expect big meals.

If I dip that scone in the coffee too often, I start expecting coffee… and a scone with it. It’s now the standard expectation.

It is very, very easy to become addicted to those momentary pleasures. But as with most addictions, the more you taste that momentary pleasure, the less it means.

I’ve found that I don’t get maximum pleasure from filling my days with an endless array of momentary pleasures. If I do that, they just become normal and they become a completely normal expense without giving me much of a burst in return.

On the other hand, life isn’t fun without those momentary pleasures at all.

There’s a middle ground, one that I call the “pleasure peak.” It’s where the pleasures are spread out enough that each one gives you quite a bit of joy, but they’re not spread out so far that I don’t get to enjoy them.

For example, instead of visiting the coffee shop every day, where it becomes really expensive and it just becomes routine, and instead of never visiting it, I try to visit once or twice a month. When I do, it’s a very enjoyable and special experience.

I don’t avoid getting new board games, but I don’t get one every week, either. When I do get one, opening it up is a real joy.

I don’t eat a big dinner every day. Instead, I usually save those big, fulfilling meals for times when I can share it with a friend or two, heightening the pleasure and making it a peak experience.

Most weeks, I don’t even buy orange juice. However, when I do, I really enjoy drinking a big mouthful of the orange stuff. It’s a shock to the tongue rather than an expected experience.

Finding that middle ground keeps costs down and makes each momentary pleasure a lot more enjoyable. It adds anticipation to the equation, makes a small treat really stand out from the crowd, and often frees up time for other things in life.

Rather than reveling in a nonstop parade of momentary pleasures, which have all become dulled because of their repetition and which all cost money, try spreading out those pleasures. Cut a daily routine down to a weekly one for a while and see how your appreciation of that treat changes. Change a weekly pleasure into a monthly one.

If you find that it’s too long, experiment with the length, but if you’re finding that there’s no anticipation any more, you’re probably doing it too frequently.

The pleasure that’s done so often that it’s no longer a pleasure is just an unnecessary expense that doesn’t really bring anything into your life. Skip it and find a better pattern.

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