Tuesday, December 3, 2013

A generation of instant gratification - The cause of unhappiness

In our current generation, everything moves at the speed of light. Information can be attained and transferred almost immediately.

Gone are the days of snail mail where you have to wait 2-3 days to receive a mail.

Gone are the days where you have to walk hours from your school back to your kampong house.

Gone are the days where you have to wait for someone at a location and couldn't contact him because you didn't have a mobile phone.

Growing up in the 80s and 90s

I too was born into an era where most things were made convenient for us. Now its even more convenient.

I witnessed the evolution of computers from the old windows 3.2 to windows 95, 98, 2000, ME, XP, vista and now windows 7.

I witnessed the evolution of the internet from the slow dial up 56k to 256/512k broadband to the 300mbps fibre broadband now.

I witnessed the evolution of mobile devices from pagers to big Motorola mobile phones with extendible antennas, to Nokia non colour phone with the famous Nokia ringtone and snake game, to Sony Ericsson colour and camera phone and to the Apple and Samsung smart phones.

All these I experienced while I was growing up as a small kid living in the small island state of Singapore. If you witnessed all these as a kid too, most likely you're also like me born in the 80s, living as a kid in the 90s. I remembered every year when there was a new thing coming out, I would get excited. The first few rides on the MRT was exciting even though we didn't had much stations back then, most people were grateful for it as it added convenience for us. Having the first computer on windows 3.2 was exciting as i could play simple games on it even though it was slow and hanged continuously. Having 56k internet was exciting as i first explored the world of internet even though dial up can be unsuccessful a lot of times and connection can be cut off often. Having the first mobile phone was exciting as we experienced calling each other at any location.

Living in the current generation

Fast forward to 2013. Now we see friends posting their frustrations on Facebook because they got a slow mobile or broadband connection. We experience frustrations when the MRT breaks down even though there is free feeder bus provided to your next station. We complain about long waiting times of the bus when its just slightly more than 10 mins.

Welcome to the world of instant gratification where most of us have lost the patience to wait and even pause for awhile. We want everything to be fast and instant. Everything must be smooth. We want things instantly and we cannot wait.

Instant gratification can be devastating when the kid grows up to be a young adult. He or she may grow up having little patience and low tolerance for people. They will have problems with most of their bosses and change jobs frequently.

Credits: glee.wikia.com

He or she always want to get the latest trendy clothes or gadgets and end up being broke on most of the months. They may even make poor financial decisions and chalk up huge amounts of credit card debts or over leverage themselves on car loans or housing loans.

He or she may speculate in the stock market thinking they can get rich quick and make lots of money in a short time without much effort. Most people burnt their fingers in the end.

We all know that delayed gratification is necessary in life sometimes. Chinese has a idiom saying 先苦后甜, which means there is no sweet without sweat or you have to taste bitter first before experiencing sweetness. You need to forsake buying certain things in order to save up money. Everything in life needs sacrifices.

Learn to wait

The one most important trait that a child may lose is patience if everything is given instantly to him or her. Patience is needed in relationships, in investing in the stock market, in business, in their careers and in life itself. Without patience and the ability to slow down and think about life for awhile, a person may lose the simple joy of life. He or she will definitely be lost in the pursuit of life and feel depressed almost every day.

I had the chance to experience what it was like to be living in Singapore in the 70s. I stayed for 3 months in a 3rd world country and I saw how simple life can be. Ironically, it is in this simplicity that I see how happy life can be. I was chosen for overseas internship to Vietnam during my Poly days. The place i was settled in was a small town near to the border of Cambodia. Life was pretty simple there with the streets being emptied at around 10pm. It was all quiet and peaceful at night.

Food was relatively cheap there at $1 per meal eating out. Coffee was only 10 cents per cup. You can buy bread for 20 cents also. For a Singaporean student like me at that time, i was already feeling rich in that land. At first we spent quite a lot on food at higher class restaurants but later on, we settled for the cheap roadside stalls. To the extend, we even saved on drinks and brought our own water bottle out. The amazing thing is why are we saving only a few cents now? 20 cents means nothing in Singapore yet we are saving that amount. It was sort of done subconsciously. Then i realised the reason why we saved just a few cents. It had to be the environment. Most people are poor there and they save on every little money they have.

Some families have no homes to stay in and you can see whole families with kids sleeping on cardboards along the streets at night. Often, the kids will come and beg for food at night when we were having our dinner. There was once my manager there bought a packet of rice for a hungry kid and the smile on the face was unforgettable. The face showed deep gratitude of thankfulness and happiness that I've never seen before in my life. Immediately i thought of kids in Singapore throwing tantrums at their parents while the parents feed them to eat. Kids in Singapore do not want to eat certain stuff. While the poor kids in Vietnam are thankful for every meal they can have.

Because of this lifestyle, people in Vietnam learn to cherish life and not take life for granted. When i was there, i realised how i have taken many things i had for granted. I had no heated water for shower there so i had to bathe in the cold water of the river everyday. There was no clean water from the tap. All water had to be drunk from mineral water. There was rubbish everywhere as the rubbish collector only comes once a week. Everyone piles their rubbish beside the roads with no rubbish bags or containers. So after a few days, the rubbish piles stinks and attracts lots of rats and cockroaches. After a few more days some of the food in the rubbish pile rots and you can see maggots eating on it. This was the actual scenario I've experienced.

When we eat out at roadside stalls, most of the time there will be rats and cockroaches. But we still manage to eat our dinner as we got used to it after awhile. Imagine if there was only one rat at a stall in Singapore, complaints will come flooding in. But here i am with many rats and everyone still eats their dinner as if the rats don't exist. Another thing i took for granted is our electricity. There were electricity outages often. It brought a lot of inconvenience especially at night when it was dark. The streets were dark too as they had very few street lamps.

No doubt there were lots of inconveniences in Vietnam. But, life was much simpler there. There was nothing much to do during your free time as entertainment was very limited. The whole small town only had one small shopping mall similar to a small neighbourhood mall in Singapore. The rest were just markets and small shops. No cinemas in the whole town also. Experiencing the kampong spirit? I think i did experienced that there. Because of the simple life, everyone had more time for each other. Most of the time we're just idling around chit chatting.

The cause of unhappiness

Instant gratification causes us to lose the excitement in life. Kids who always get what they want will not cherish the things they have. They will always want more and complain about the little things. This is the cause of unhappiness. You can still be unhappy even though you have every thing. That's the reason why that rich kid you know is always pulling a long face.

Learning how to delay gratification will benefit your life. Slow down a bit and take time out to appreciate life. Be grateful for the things you have and you'll be happier. Even rich people will say contentment is the path to happiness. You can be rich but still be contented with life. Sometimes, the really rich live a very simple life. Without contentment, you will always be stuck in the rat race working harder each day and still be unhappy even though you have achieved a lot. If you've understood the true meaning of financial freedom, good for you. If not, find out the true meaning and you will be blessed.

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  1. Hi SGYI,

    Good post. I think to teach young pple to appreciate delayed gratification, we have to start by teaching them how to read a physical book. It always starts off dreary, where you don't know the characters in the book and don't really care a hoot if they live or die. You might have to be disciplined enough to read the first few chapters, not with the guarantee that you'll like it, but with the hope that perhaps something will grow on you. There's no moving images to capture your attention - the only thing that keeps you moving forward is the imagination that you had created in your mind as you read the words. Word by word, sentence by sentence, eventually you'll reach a point where the story just hooks you and you'll find that it's hard to let go of the book. The payload of the plot can only be realised by investing into the book. Contentment and joy floods in.

    If you've experienced the joy of delayed gratification in reading a book, this can be easily extended to other aspects of life in general. Unfortunately, it's really hard to see people read books these days.

    1. Hi LP,

      Wise words from a teacher ;)

      Nowadays we only see ipad, iphone etc. If reading frm ibooks still ok but most are on Facebook or just playing games.

  2. Hi SGYI,

    Really enjoyed this post of yours!

    Sometimes, I do think that I am luckier than some of my nieces and nephews. After all, just like you, I grew up in the 90s when I had to learn to exercise control and patience. For eg, 20 hours of internet a month so can't "flirt" too long on IRC or ICQ? and even later, the 500 SMS limit?

    With parents catering to almost every whim and demands of kids these days, I wonder how they would adjust when they grow up and realise that things aren't as "easy" as they expect to be.

    Good that your Vietnam trip has made you appreciate that we all need very little to survive or even be happy about. =)

    1. Hi 15HWW,

      Having limited Internet usage was really tough. I remember I had to plan what I wanted to find and find it within a short time. With the slow speed, its even harder.

      Parents provide a very safe environment for their kids now. They help their kids settle almost every thing in life. I'm seeing parents coming to register for university admissions with their kids. Are they still kids? I don't think so. I hope I don't see parents going to job interviews with thier kids in the future. Although it may already be happening now. I think I heard someone said about it before.

      Vietnam is indeed an eye opener for me. To think that life can be so simple but yet happy is something I saw and experienced.

  3. Hi SG YI

    Nice post and brings back a lot of past memories when I used to live more simple life in a less structured environment.

    But the world moves on and we need to keep up with the world. I think that's part and parcel of life. But thats the disadvantage of today's world. It is going to be so stranger with all the modern technology that give a few more years and I will be behind the pack ><

    1. Hi B,

      I enjoy keeping up with the latest technology and stuffs. I'm a technology lover. Haha

      How all these technology works really amazes me. I'm in the telco line so I know how all the mobile technology works. What goes on behind the scenes when you make a call or surf the net on your phone is complicated. Not many people know how complicated it is.

      Modern technology somehow decreases our real interaction with people. Everyone is so busy on their phones that they don't talk much anymore. I don't know if technology has caused more harm or benefit to our society.