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We Want It All, We Want It Now

Written by: Andrew Cowie, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

 

WE live in an age of instant gratification. Everything about the modern world is designed to raise our expectations of immediate fulfilment of every desire.

The advent of the Internet and Smart technology has fuelled this phenomenon, leading us to believe that every product or service should be at our immediate beck and call. Twenty years ago, if we wanted to buy something, we would have to go out to the shops to source it. Now we can do so without even leaving the comfort of our armchairs.


Our groceries can be ordered online and delivered to our door. Any film, song or book is no more than a mouse-click away. In many cases it isn’t even necessary to buy physical products anymore – much of it is available On Demand through our Smart TVs or streaming devices.


We can communicate with friends by text, WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger. We can even video-call them via Skype, Facetime or Zoom. Robot cleaners vacuum our floors while we put our feet up, the lighting and heating in our homes can be controlled by remote control or voice command. We can conduct much of our day-to-day business without even leaving our beds.


Such technology has brought many conveniences. You could argue that we’ve never had it so good. Yesterday’s sci-fi is today’s reality. So why are so many people stressed out and unhappy?


The downside of this need for instant gratification is that we are becoming increasingly impatient and unwilling to wait for anything. Remember back to when you were a kid, how the excitement would build throughout December in the run-up to Christmas? The eager anticipation of wondering what treasures were contained within the brightly wrapped parcels beneath the Christmas tree? The exhilarating excitement of Christmas morning and the pay-off of finally getting to tear the packages open in a manic frenzy?


Anyone who was ever tempted to sneak a look at one or more of their presents prior to Christmas Day will know the sense of ultimate disappointment which came with spoiling the surprise. By cheating and peeking in advance, all we succeeded in doing was depriving ourselves of the thrill of Christmas morning and robbing the day of much of its sense of wonder and mystery. Because a big part of the magic of Christmas lies in the anticipation and in not knowing what the parcels contain.


Nowadays entire boxsets of our favourite TV shows are available to stream online, meaning that you go can go straight from watching one episode to the next in a marathon binge. How much more exciting was it back in the days when a soap opera or serial ended on a nail-biting cliffhanger and you had to wait an entire week at least to find out what happened next?


Back in 1980, a worldwide television audience of 350 million viewers was kept in suspense over an entire summer, waiting to learn the answer to the question Who Shot JR? Would this iconic and much-imitated storyline from the soap opera Dallas have had anything like the same impact if viewers had been able to instantly access the next episode On Demand? Or if the identity of the killer had been spoilered online? I would suggest not.


This storyline effectively created the concept of the end-of-season cliffhanger – now a staple of TV drama – and it was the fact that audiences were forced to wait months to find out the identity of the shooter which created such a frenzy of worldwide speculation and anticipation.


Delayed gratification provides us with a bigger buzz, because we’ve had to wait for the pay-off, meaning that we’re far more likely to appreciate the prize and savour it for a longer period. By contrast, the problem with instant gratification is that it leaves us constantly wanting more. Nothing is ever quite enough. You’ll always be chasing the next product, the next model, the next iPhone, the next car, the next job or the next episode of a TV show. We’re living in a binge culture and it’s stripping life of the magic which comes from waiting, hoping, wanting and anticipating.


It’s a form of drug addiction, the drugs in question being the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine. Serotonin is often known as “the happiness chemical” and is strongly linked to mood levels. It’s the neurotransmitter stimulated by anti-depressant drugs known as SSRIs – Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors. Low levels of serotonin are associated with depression, whereas people with higher levels tend to be happier.


Dopamine is the chemical which affects concentration, sleep and memory. Your body releases dopamine after you’ve achieved a goal, so it plays an important part in maintaining motivation because your body knows that it will be flooded with dopamine if it succeeds in its objective.


Both serotonin and dopamine therefore play an important part in the body’s recognition of pleasure and pain, reward and punishment. The body learns that success will be rewarded by the release of higher levels of these feel-good chemicals, whilst failure will not.


The science behind this takes on considerable importance within the context of our modern culture of instant gratification. One of the biggest problems with any form of addiction is that the more you’re exposed to the stimulus, the greater the quantity that will be required in future to achieve the same effect. For example, when you have your first taste of alcohol, it doesn’t take much to get you drunk very quickly. But as your body becomes habituated to the effects over time, your resistance grows and it will take more and more drinks to get you to that “happy place”.


This is every bit as true when it comes to our addiction to internal chemicals, such as serotonin and dopamine. These neurotransmitters are stimulated by factors such as social acceptance. Here’s the problem – the digital age has turned a natural human response mechanism into a serious addiction. Nowadays we spend increasing amounts of time wired into social media, posting our every move on platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and judging our own popularity and status by the number and nature of responses we receive.


People become so driven by the need to be popular – and the need to be perceived by others as popular – that they accumulate hundreds of Facebook friends, many of whom they barely know, if at all, just to boost their social standing. Each time somebody “Likes” one of our social media posts, it feeds into the pleasure/reward section of our brain and results in a release of serotonin, giving us a little mini-high.


Our social media interactions become a barometer of our social standing and, consequently, a measure of our happiness. Here’s the problem though… because we’re essentially dealing with a drug addiction, it takes greater and greater quantities of serotonin to achieve the same ‘hit’ each time. So each picture you post on Facebook has to receive more “Likes” than the previous one in order for you to get the same level of buzz. If you don’t achieve that, then symptoms such as self-doubt and paranoia begin to seep in.


Is my popularity decreasing? Don’t people like me anymore? Have I done something wrong? It might sound funny but it’s essentially true and we’re living in a culture in which many people – particularly the younger generation – have developed a dependency on the validation they receive on social media to the extent that they can’t feel happy without it. Their brains are overstimulated by constant exposure to electronic devices which they carry with them 24/7 and they are so hopelessly addicted to serotonin and dopamine that they are constantly craving the approval of peers and strangers alike just to get their next hit.


Another downside of this reliance on technology is that proper face-to-face contact is becoming a rarity, with people spending ever greater periods of time glued to their phones, tablets and laptops. The dinner table chat which so many of us grew up with is increasingly becoming a thing of the past as many choose to spend their mealtimes scrolling through their emails and social media.


We’re not communicating like we used to. People are becoming isolated, many don’t know or speak to their next-door neighbours and we console ourselves through immersion in an online world which, in truth, is but a pale digital facsimile of the real thing.


So what’s the answer? Put simply we need to switch off, unplug ourselves from electronic devices and reconnect with the physical world and with each other. Of course, I’m not suggesting we dispense with technology entirely. Smart devices and social media serve many useful purposes and have been a Godsend in keeping us connected with loved ones throughout the Coronavirus pandemic. But we must break our addiction to them, to learn when and how to switch off, in order to reclaim our lives and halt this spiral of dependency.


We need to halt the relentless pursuit of external approval and learn that true happiness comes from within. There are many healthy ways to release happiness chemicals into our body through practices such as meditation, mindfulness and physical exercise – practices which are not determined by our subjective perceptions of whether or not other people like us. Learning to be comfortable with who and what we are will foster a much deeper and more lasting sense of wellbeing than any than number of Facebook “Likes” or Twitter followers could ever do.


For starters, try creating a tech-free zone within your home – a designated space of comfort and calm where you can relax and unwind, free from online distractions, messages and notifications. It could be a conservatory, a summer house, your bedroom or even the bathroom. It doesn’t matter where as long as it’s a sanctuary where phones and other devices are left at the door.


The bedroom is a particularly important no-go zone for electronic appliances, not least because the blue light emitted by phones and tablets suppresses the production of melatonin – the chemical that regulates sleep.


At PhoenixCoaching & Therapy I specialise in helping people make the required changes to promote a healthier and less stressful lifestyle, from meditation and mindfulness training to advice on digital detoxing. Check out the links below for more info on the extensive range of services on offer.


For more info, follow me on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and visit my website!


 

Andrew Cowie, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine Andrew Cowie is a transformational life coach, psychotherapist, and author dedicated to helping people overcome adversity and achieve their full potential. He came to the world of therapy after a 20-year career in newspaper journalism was brought to an abrupt end by severe burnout. In the course of his own recovery, he was introduced to meditation, mindfulness, hypnotherapy, yoga, martial arts, and NLP. He went on to retrain under some of the world's leading spiritual and personal development teachers to become an expert in these fields. Andrew has since dedicated his life to passing on this knowledge, synthesizing the various disciplines into one overarching system blending ancient spiritual practices with the latest cutting-edge techniques from the field of modern psychology. He is the owner of Phoenix Coaching & Therapy and the founder of its associated 'magical training school' The Ancient and Mystical Hermetic Order of the Phoenix (AMHOP). His debut book Rise Like a Phoenix was published in 2021 and is described as a manual for personal regeneration. Andrew works with clients worldwide and is passionate about mental health and exploring the latent potential of the human mind.

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