Monday, February 15, 2016

Best of blog: There are no Mulligans in life. On the value of delayed gratification.

Posted this a year ago. I thought it worthy of reprising, especially as I contemplate a post-65 birthday with no retirement remotely in sight.

It's because of deceptively appealing sentiments like those depicted at left that I consider SHAMblog to be of such importance. (Saw it this morning on one of those "self-esteem-building" sites that proliferate on Facebook.) In our broad culture these days, there is very little counterbalance to this type of "inspiration." For all its frothy panache, Komiser's notion contributes to the ruination of the minds of the young people to whom it is endlessly sung: this mantra that you're supposed to be happy and fulfilled and "following your dreams" at all times... Uh, until one day you wake up and realize that you pissed away all those formative years when you should've been building something, preparing for something. You should've been laying a foundation for stability and security and true happiness, which is more about peace of mind and less about fun...and suddenly you're 25 or 45 or I will be in two more weeks. And it's too late to go back for a "do-over."

Today's abiding Happyism stands in stark opposition to the ethic with which our parents' generations, and their parents' generation, came of age. Back then the emphasis was on planning, on impulse control, on the components of what we used to call "common sense" or "being practical." Being a mature adult. (Now we scorn such imperatives.) Back then we understood, and raised our kids to understand, that sometimes (if not often) gratification must be delayed, because if you don't approach life with that mindset, you may end up living a life totally devoid of gratification. Irony of ironies.

"Arguably the greatest unintended consequence of all is that if you spend most of your time chasing happiness, you risk finding little of it."
We don't need to encourage our kids to be fanciful or hedonistic, because the selfish desire for gratification is the instinctive one, the one that must be socialized out of us (to some degree) if we are to be productive, congenial members of a functioning society. 

Alas, we react angrily to common sense nowadays. Telling a kid that an idea is "impractical" is made out to be tantamount to child abuse. Or God forbid you publicly dismiss your son or daughter as "a Dreamer." Because, after all, they're supposed to be Dreamers!!

But why belabor the point. Instead I'll give you some selected readings* on the topic (all of which I confess to producing), should you care to go further. 

"The Happiness Myth," from the Wall Street Journal, December 2007.
"Happy Talk," from the Wall Street Journal, October 2008. 
"Positively Misguided," from Skeptic, April 2009. 
"Please, Give Up Your Dreams," from the New York Daily News, February 2015.

* Depending on your browser you may or may not have to register/pay for some of these sites. I've never been able to figure out how the algorithm works. Even on my own home computers, the first story above sometimes opens with no problems, and sometimes asks me to register. 

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