Does instant gratification and pleasure seeking create long-lasting happiness? Or is it just a habit?

The monotheistic religions of Judaism, Islam and Christianity have common origins and have evolved similar ways of teaching their followers how to be in the world. From a psychological perspective I am interested in the concept of deferral of pleasure and what these religions tell us can be achieved by this.

Many studies have shown that young children who are able to defer gratification do better at school, are more optimistic and less prone to depression in later life. A simple experimental design would be to offer a young child one sweet now or three in half an hour. The child is then left to their own devices with the temptation of a bowl of sweets in front of them. The longer gratification can be deferred, the weaker the neural pathway is between observation of an object of desire and consumption. Instant gratification can become an engrained habit and children who become used to immediate rewards tend to find it harder to plan for the future.

This doesn’t just hold for children, although these habit tendencies can become deeply engrained in adolescence. As we age we accumulate a mass of habits and routines. Studies suggest the increasing speed of searches on the internet reduces our ability to defer pleasure. But is this necessarily a bad thing? Yes and no. Yes, we can explore the world and connect positively with other people, if we so choose. No, we may be re-wiring our brains so that we become addicted to instant gratification and addicted to interacting with the world through technology. In addition, studies from Positive Psychology suggest that human wellbeing is fostered by positive interaction with people, a healthy outdoors lifestyle and optimism in the future. Indeed, wellbeing is diminished through over-consumption of resources and immediate gratification of desires. Perhaps we are destined to become set in our ways.

So what do ancient traditions and religions tell us about how to manage our cravings? Christians have Lent, Muslims have Ramadan and in the Jewish faith many people observe a period for 24 hours after sundown on a Friday, when they restrict their usual activities. As one denies pleasure, the neural links between observation and reward are weakened. If you do this for long enough, perhaps 40 days of Lent, these cravings may diminish. In Buddhist psychology it is the attachment to pleasure and the aversion to suffering that diminishes wellbeing. When craving is satisfied, pleasure flows. Constant repetition of the same craving/reward cycle engrains patterns of behaviour. Inevitably when we can no longer satisfy our craving we feel loss and suffering. The challenge is to enjoy fully the ripe sensations that this amazing world has to offer without trying to hold onto them. We need to find a way to let pleasure flow.

One way to do this is to try new things, which may require some effort and tenacity, and may not bring immediate reward. Our 30 day Positive Psychology wellbeing plan encourages you to break old patterns and see the world from a fresh perspective. Download your 30 day PDF at

This month at Breathe

Positive Psychology workshops: We are running a 3 hour workshop on the scientific findings from Positive Psychology on Thursday 25th February in Central London. In the workshop we explore whether happiness and wellbeing is within our gift and can be chosen.
Go to to make a booking.

Holistic massage on Friday evenings: For the next 4 weeks, Anita is offering gentle Holistic Massage at the Colombo Centre, Waterloo for half the normal price, just £25 for a one hour treatment. To book call the Colombo Centre on 0207 261 1658 and book with Anita between 4.30 and 9.00pm

Sports massage and physiotherapy: Adelle is now doing treatments at the Colombo Centre between 3pm and 8pm on Wednesday evenings. For a limited period only you can still buy five, thirty minute treatments for just £100. Go to

The team at Breathe London
Breathe is a London based wellbeing business specialising in the fusion of ideas from Positive Psychology, Yoga and Massage Therapies. Our physical therapy centre is based on the London’s South Bank and we run Business Psychology and Personal Development courses throughout the UK and online.

Other lifestyle benefits can be found at


Posted on February 17, 2010, in Coaching, Meditation etc. and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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