Instant Gratification Here, There, and Everywhere


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I felt myself becoming more agitated as I sat at the stoplight waiting for the light to turn green. I was on my way to the gym, and was anxious to get started. The light was seemingly taking forever, so I decided to figure out how long the light was red.  I was sure it would be a ridiculous amount of time. I remember that I had started a new track as I pulled up to the intersection so I would easily be able to calculate how long I was sitting there. After what seemed like an excruciating eternity the light finally turned green.  I looked at the digital display and found that I was exactly two minutes and thirty seconds into the song.

As I stepped on the accelerator, I physically hung my head in shame as I reflected upon how bent out of shape I had become because my progress towards the gym was halted for a mere 150 seconds. I instantly started thinking about how our entire existence now revolves around having everything we need at our fingertips, and how any obstacle towards immediate fulfillment of our wants and needs seems unacceptable.

Let me give you a few examples I thought of as I drove the rest of the way to my gym:

  • Text Message Response: We were traveling to a nearby town last weekend and my wife texted our son, who had stayed home, to see if he was doing alright. When he didn’t respond within a few minutes she started getting concerned. Think about that for a minute, if you text someone, at what point to you start to wonder if they are simply ignoring you? How long of a time goes by before you start trying to assign some sort of meaning to the lack of a response?
  • On Demand Movies: Remember the days when you had to drive to a movie rental store to rent a movie? Now we have an almost limitless number of movies and TV shows available through streaming services such as on demand cable television, Netflix, and others. How quickly do you become upset when you cannot find the movie you want to watch immediately?
  • Internet Searching: The World Wide Web has the answers to everything. You bring up your favorite search engine, type in what you’re looking for and pages of answers pop up almost immediately. How quickly do you become frustrated when you discover that your first search did not yield the answer you were looking for and you have to refine your search phrase once or even (gasp) twice?

In these examples the result is relatively harmless. You inflict upon yourself unnecessary frustration and aggravation, but that can be dissipated quickly. But now let’s apply this perspective to material possessions. If we expect and demand our wants and needs to be instantly fulfilled, how will we react when we see something we’d like to own?  The ability to have everything we want at a moment’s notice is so ingrained into our life that we become frustrated when we cannot have what we want, at the very moment that we want it.

In this world of instant gratification, it’s no wonder we turn to credit.

Credit allows us to to perpetuate our perspective that we can, and should, have everything we want at a moment’s notice.   Unfortunately, some of us do not think of the effects this will have later, and end up in trouble financially.

We need to change the underlying expectation that everything should be instantly available.  Remember those Heintz ketchup commercials from years ago featuring someone waiting an insane amount of time for the thick red condiment to roll out of the bottle?  The scene would then cut to the person experiencing extreme pleasure by eating something with the ketchup on it, with the catch phrase, “Good things come to those that wait.”  I remember as a teenager lying awake at night thinking about things that I wanted, and calculating how long I would have to save up to buy it.   Night after night I would lay awake in excited anticipation of earning something new.  We need to reintroduce that excited anticipation, and this perspective of working to earn something as the norm.

Think about that the next time you’re waiting in frustration at a red light.  But don’t think too long, you’ll only be there for 150 more seconds.

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32 Responses to “Instant Gratification Here, There, and Everywhere”

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  1. Kathy says:

    I hate it at traffic lights where the person behind you honks his horn if your car isn’t rolling forward when the light turns. But I admit to being agitated when someone in front of me is on their phone and not paying attention to the light.

    • Travis says:

      Well, not being able to move when you *should* be able to because of someone else’s lack of attention is a whole other matter, Kathy. 🙂 It’s funny you mention the “horn if your car isn’t rolling forward when the light turns” – my wife I think purposefully watches the light and as soon as it turns, yells “GOOOOO!” at me like I’ve been sitting there for 10 minutes at a green light. LOL…we usually have a good laugh about it. Thanks for reading!

  2. I try and not get frustrated with things beyond my control like traffic lights. Why get upset, me being upset won’ change the timing of the light, so I just wait my turn. This type of thinking has saved me a lot of stress. I do agree we have become a society of instant gratification. How many times a day you you hear the phase just google it, when someone is searching for an answer. When I was a kid I had to ask someone older and wiser or take a trip to the library. 🙂

    • Travis says:

      I tend to go in phases, Brian. Some days I sit there at the light and just wait patiently. Other times I’ll be SCREAMING at it just BEGGING it to change. But you’re right, it’s not like the thing is listening to me or anything. I think we could all benefit from a dose of “Go with the flow” from now and again.

  3. I think this is 100% true. Advancements are being made all the time to give us more of what we want faster. It makes sense that the “I want it now” mentality is bleeding over into other areas of life. Consumerism and our ability to have almost everything at our fingertips is having a big impact on how people react in situations, how we communicate, and how we view things. I’d argue that our lives are better because of Google and other conveniences, but buying things now when we can’t afford them is not a good byproduct for most people.

    • Travis says:

      It’s a “Now, Now, Now” world, and sometimes you just have to realize that some things just take time. Like saving for retirement, or any significant goal that requires planning and hard work. It’s hard to realize that as the world keeps telling us to keep moving faster, right Natalie?

  4. This is really interesting to reflect on! I’m perfectly fine with waiting out purchases, but I do lose my patience quickly with things like traffic and lights (and technology not working properly). I agree that credit and consumerism is perpetuated by the instant gratification mentality so many people have. It’s way too easy to think of something you want to buy, and go out and buy it on credit, even though you truly can’t afford it. Not many stop to think about the future repercussions because they’re too focused on getting what they want in that moment.

    • Travis says:

      A little pain today……a lot of (financial) pain tomorrow. I know what you mean about getting frustrated with technology not working right – as a software engineer I know what kind of effort is made with testing before a product is released to the general public. I find myself saying, “Didn’t they TEST this???” People tend to look at me funny…but that’s OK, I’m used to it. 🙂

  5. I hate to admit this, but I would have felt the same way. I am not the most patient person when it comes to driving. 🙂 But you are so right – we have gotten so use to instantly gratifying our needs that being forced to wait for 150 seconds is mind boggling to us! And while it is just a harmless annoyance when it comes to red lights, we do use our credit cards to gratify our wants instantly. We no longer remember the thrill of anticipation and hard work of saving our money for something we truly desire – we demand and get it now. Credit cards aren’t going to go away so we, as parents, need to work doubly hard with our kids to help them avoid the instant gratification mindset. Thanks for the reminder!

    • Travis says:

      We not only have to work doubly hard to help our kids to avoid the instant gratification mindset….but we have to ensure we also avoid it. It’s hard, and it’s one of those things we have to constantly work at! Thanks for stopping by, Shannon!

  6. The only time I look at my phone while driving is when I am waiting at the drive-thru (yes Japan does have drive-thrus to many of their restaurants). My daughter is with me most of the time in the car and since she has been around four she would always remind me when I would text while I drive that it was against the law. So sad to say, I had to choose to be a good role model for her. Yes she has made me a better person.

    • Travis says:

      My son has his permit, and I’m trying to set a good example for him as well, Petrish. I now put my phone in a little compartment in our van as soon as we get in the vehicle together, and then pull it out once the van is turned off at our destination. It was hard to get used to not checking my phone at traffic lights or (gulp) while driving….but it’s a good habit to get into. Put the phone down and drive!!! Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  7. Mrs. WW says:

    Don’t we always learn the hard way that patience is a virtue? It’s interesting to note that the more we get the more we expect. It’s spoiled and ugly.

    I am not immune. Internet speed gets me the most. “Don’t make me wait more than three seconds internet… you’ll get my wrath!” (And my wrath will consist of my anger and will not affect the internet at all but will make me miserable. *hangs head in shame.*)

    • Travis says:

      and sometimes we have to learn that more than once, Mrs. WW. LOL, next time I’m impatient with my internet speed I’m going to threaten it with “my wrath” and think of you! 🙂

  8. ha I remember that commercial. Wasn’t Carly Simon singing, “anticipation….” They say that people who can delay gratification are actually happier people and are more successful! Makes sense really. My goal is to try and be more patient this month in lines at stores, on the road, etc. since I know most people are probably more stressed out than me this time of year.

    • Travis says:

      It wouldn’t surprise me that people who delay gratification are happier and more successful….probably more motivated too. Who’s going to work harder to pay for something….someone that’s anxious to go and buy it (with cash), or someone paying for an item they already have? Makes sense to me, Tonya!

  9. Travis, this is a really great post. I can totally relate to that “excited anticipation” as a teenager, thinking about what I would be able to afford in 30, 60, 180 days. Or looking through catalogs and thinking about what I need to do work-wise to be able to afford it. It’s so different today in the “real world.” It’s all about getting everything NOW! I know I’ve fallen victim to this, especially with our house. While there is definitely a *need* to upgrade certain things (i.e. get rid of crappy old carpet, refinish shower, etc.) I want it all NOW. Not tomorrow, TODAY! It’s so easy to get into that mindset about everything.

    • Travis says:

      I’m having that itch with my house right now, DC…there’s some upgrades we’d like to do, all of them pretty spendy. The temptation to take out a loan and do it all is very hard to resist!!!

  10. I am SO impatient when I drive. What’s with that? There are different kinds of waiting. Waiting at a red light should be relaxed and passively content. Waiting for something like financial freedom is more active; it requires steady effort, even when results are discouraging. That kind of anticipation takes energy and focus.Our society isn’t very good at either type of waiting. Impatience on the one hand and distracted carelessness on the other. This whole anticipation thing was a struggle for me for a long time. But I think I’m starting to get it : )

    • Travis says:

      Our society isn’t good at either because we’re being guided away from it….there’s no money to be made. 😉 Thanks for stopping by, my friend!

  11. Sassy Mamaw says:

    It’s a good point, Travis. (I have a traffic light a mile from my house and if you miss the left turn light, it is three minutes before it changes again.) Anticipation is fun during the Christmas season. I need to change my mindset to make anticipation that much fun all the time! Patience is a virtue.

    • Travis says:

      Anticipation CAN be fun….it’s what makes the end sooooo awesome. I can’t help but think of my marathon training, sassy mamaw – I worked for months and months. I looked forward to race day…and thought about it constantly in the weeks leading up to it. Once it was upon me, I just basked in the awesomeness of the day!

  12. I like to think of delayed gratification as a way of life :). You’re right that our society is just not geared for it anymore. What helps me the most is having a long-term goal to work towards. I don’t do as well when I’m just sort of living day-to-day without a real destination in mind. But with a concrete goal, it’s much easier for me to buckle down and save money!

    • Travis says:

      It’s not about the destination as much as the journey, right Mrs. Frugalwoods? I love having a long term goal…something constantly on the horizon to aim at. it’s what gets me out of bed each and every day! Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  13. I am possible the least patient person I know. Thankfully it hasn’t manifested itself in a financial disaster. But it does cause a lot of unnecessary stress and anger.

  14. Good post- I think technology has definitely made everyone more demanding and impatient. It’s hard to slow down sometimes when everything around you is programmed to deliver what you want immediately.

    • Travis says:

      And it will only get worse, Holly. Bigger, better, faster – that’s the point of technology. We just have to remember to slooooooow down and realize it’s OK to wait sometimes!

  15. I remember that commercial as well Travis. I deal with the same frustration at lights like that and the closest one to our house has a timed light so I get to exercise my trying to be more patient nearly every time I go out. 🙂 That said, you’re spot on with regards to how technology has helped give more opportunity to be frustrated when things don’t happen in the timing we’d like. Applying that to finances just makes it worse, if we don’t watch it.

  16. Kim says:

    I am really bad if I get behind a super slow driver, even if it only means maybe being 5 minutes later to my destination. I think my problem is that I try to jam in as much as possible to get the most bang for my buck time wise, so it often means right on time or just a little late. If there is a monkey wrench, it means late. I need to just plan better and give myself more time so I don’t feel rushed. Knowing and doing are two different thing though!

    • Travis says:

      I just recently told my son (who has his driver’s permit) that it doesn’t pay to speed and go a few miles an hour faster when you’re driving in town. Taking into account traffic lights, they probably get to their destination only a few seconds faster than if you hurry and drive like a crazy person. All that unnecessary aggravation….that applies to real life as well – sometimes hurrying is just NOT worth it!

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