Society is set up around a system of rewards and punishments. For example, we get paid for spending the majority of our lives doing things we’d never dream of doing for free. That’s what’s commonly called “work”. Some people think work is a punishment for being born poor. Actually, punishments are what happens when you don’t show up for work. You lose money, which means you can’t pay for space to exist or for food. We tend to internalize that system of rewards and punishments. That’s why there is such a thing as a workaholic. They believe that they only have value when they are producing something of value, which is usually profits for their employers.
Some kinds of delayed gratification are healthy. The healthy ones are usually connected to natural consequences and not what other people have the power to do to you. For example, we wouldn’t be able to survive if we catered to our own every whim and never did anything unpleasant that we didn’t want to do. A lot of us might just stay big dirty infants. The natural consequences of never disinfecting the bathroom bowl or cleaning the refigerator are disease and potential death from food poison. Delayed gratification imposed on us by other people isn’t always so healthy–either for us or others. For example, you can get rewarded for not spending your money today. If you put it in the bank, you can earn interest on it over time. That’s money the bank charges people for not earning enough money to not need a loan to survive. I’d rather invest all my extra money in a company that did something I want to see expanded in the world, like solar energy, maybe, and maybe someday I’ll have some extra money.
Lately, though, it seems that the rewards are are being reduced while the punishments are being increased. It’s getting to be a lot more stick than carrot, if you know what I mean. For example, they keep raising the age of retirement. That’s partly because people are living longer. It used to be that people would drop dead about three weeks after they retired, so the government didn’t have to pay very much of that money out. Now that there are hip replacements, old people can get up again after they fall. The result is that people who paid in 10 dollars a month for 30 years are taking out 100 dollars a month for 30 years, just by adjusting for inflation. Okay, I’m making up the numbers, but the equation is real. It’s mathematically unsustainable. I also question the morality of imposing a tax on the next generation even before they’re born. Something about taxation without representation.
All that aside, the way it stands now, by the time you can retire and travel or do what you want to do with the life you have left after spending most of it working—you’re too old to be able to do it—or if you can still do it at all—to be able to enjoy it. I don’t want to finally have the time and money to go hike the Pacific trail, only to have to do it with a walker on arthritic knees, wincing with every step, and gasping for air instead of in response to the spectacular view. I’m starting to wonder if the whole concept of delayed gratification hasn’t been taken just a bit too far.
I think we need some intermittent rewards built into the system—like being able to take a month off to travel or go to a health spa or resort for every 11 months you work. Since we are playing a big game of monopoly and 1 percent own everything—they could easily purchase resorts all over the world. Mar-a-lagos, but for working people. Since hardly anybody is getting paid enough to take a vacation anymore, they could just make it a perk. Life would be so much richer if we could be paid with experiences and not just money for survival. Now that they’re talking about raising the retirement age yet again, I sure wish I had the option to cash out.I’d rather spend the money to have five enjoyable years than spend it on for-profit health care to extend a life hardly worth living.
Is delayed gratification more maturity or blind obedience? I think it might be more of a ratio, like 70% blind obedience/conformity and 30% mature decision-making. All I’m sure of is that I really need a travel vacation right now. I can wait, but I’m not sure how long before depression sets in, and that’s not productive OR healthy. I’d also like a little more time of my life to actually be mine. Lately, it feels like I’m trapped forever at an airport, unable to take flight and be fully alive.