In a world of immediate gratification and constant dopamine hits, many teens struggle to put “pleasure” on the back burner. We have instant access to everything from fast food to online shopping, and this culture of immediacy is taking its toll on our mental health. As a teenager, it can be especially challenging to cope with the pressures of an instant gratification society, but there are ways to manage the stress and find healthier alternatives to cope.
What is Instant Gratification?
Instant gratification refers to the desire for immediate pleasure or satisfaction without delay or deferment. This concept is closely linked to the brain’s reward system, which is mediated by the neurotransmitter dopamine.
Dopamine is released when we experience something pleasurable, such as eating, drinking, or engaging in social interactions. The anticipation of this pleasure can also trigger dopamine release, leading to a desire for immediate gratification.
In an instant gratification society, this desire for immediate pleasure can be reinforced by the availability of fast food, social media, and other forms of instant gratification, which can lead to addictive behaviors and negative consequences in the long term.
Why is Instant Gratification Bad?
One of the biggest concerns facing teens today is the rise of substance abuse, including vaping, smoking, and alcohol consumption. According to the CDC, more than 23.6% of high school students in the US reported using some form of tobacco products in 2020, while 19.6% reported vaping. Meanwhile, nearly 57.8% of high school seniors admitted to binge drinking.
One reason for this trend is that drugs and alcohol offer an immediate sense of pleasure or relief from stress. In an instant gratification society, the allure of immediate pleasure can be hard to resist, and it’s easy to turn to substances to cope with difficult emotions or situations. However, there are natural solutions that can help teens find better ways to cope with stress and anxiety.
It’s not just tobacco and alcohol that poses an issue, there are many other examples of where instant gratification can go wrong:
1. Fast food
Fast food is a prime example of instant gratification. It is readily available, affordable, and requires no preparation, providing immediate pleasure and convenience.
2. Social media
Social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok provide instant gratification through likes, comments, and followers. These platforms are designed to keep us engaged and addicted, providing a constant stream of dopamine hits.
3. Online shopping
Online shopping offers instant gratification by providing access to a wide range of products that can be purchased with just a few clicks. This convenience and instant access can make it challenging to resist the urge to buy something, even if it’s not necessary or affordable.
Video games provide immediate feedback, rewards, and challenges, which can trigger dopamine release and create a desire for more instant gratification.
5. Substance abuse
Drugs, alcohol, and tobacco provide immediate pleasure or relief from stress, creating a cycle of addiction and negative consequences.
So, what can you do about it?
How to Break Out of an Instant Gratification Cycle
One of the best ways for teens to cope with an instant gratification society is to focus on other activities that involve a degree of effort in order to get the reward. Here are some examples:
Exercise can be an effective tool in combating instant gratification by promoting delayed gratification and providing long-term benefits. When we exercise, our bodies release endorphins, which are chemicals that produce feelings of pleasure and happiness.
However, unlike instant gratification activities, such as social media or fast food, the benefits of exercise take time to manifest. This delay between effort and reward can help to promote patience, discipline, and delayed gratification.
Moreover, regular exercise can also help to improve self-control and decision-making abilities. Research has shown that exercise can increase the size of the prefrontal cortex, which is the part of the brain responsible for impulse control and decision-making.
By improving these cognitive abilities, exercise can help individuals make better choices and resist the temptation of instant gratification activities.
As a more immediate response to combat immediate gratification, you can try self-monitoring. This involves closely tracking your habits to ensure you’re on top of how much time you’re spending on each thing. For example, if you monitor yourself watching television for three hours, it might be a good wake-up call that your time could be better spent elsewhere.
3. Writing, drawing, or arts and crafts
Engaging in creative activities such as writing, drawing, or arts and crafts can be an effective way to combat instant gratification by promoting mindfulness and providing a sense of accomplishment. These activities require focus and concentration, which can help individuals to be present in the moment and reduce the urge to seek immediate pleasure. Additionally, creative activities provide a sense of accomplishment, reinforcing the value of delayed gratification.
4. Board games over video games
Activities like board games, chess, sudoku, and crossword puzzles, all help to combat instant gratification by promoting cognitive development and delayed gratification.
Chess is a game that requires players to plan ahead, anticipate their opponent’s moves, and consider the long-term consequences of their actions. This focus on strategy and delayed gratification can help individuals to develop greater patience and self-control, which can be applied to other areas of their lives.
5. Sticking to a healthy diet
Fast food might give you immediate gratification, but over time, it’ll harm your health, making that moment of gratification completely meaningless. Instead, eating healthy is the gift that keeps on giving. It provides long-term benefits, such as improved physical health and mental well-being.
A study published in 2017 found that eating a high-fat and high-sugar diet drastically affected impulsive control in rats, making them make more impulsive, poor choices.
A healthy diet can help to regulate blood sugar levels, which can reduce the urge for impulsive behavior and promote stable moods. When blood sugar levels are unstable, individuals may experience cravings, irritability, and other symptoms that can lead to impulsive behavior and immediate gratification.
Final Words of Advice
You want that dopamine hit now, we get it! You want to enjoy video games, fast food, and social media, it makes sense! But you have to put in a little bit of effort to create a happy, healthy life. Nothing worth having comes easy, and that’s true across the board. So work on yourself by putting in effort for gratification, whether it’s eating a healthy diet, exercising more, or switching up your activities – you won’t regret it.