Delayed Gratification

By Desmond Yeoh SC

woman in brown coat carrying two white tote bags

There are generally two groups of people. One group prefer instant gratification (“IM Group”) while another group is more future-focused and is able to delay their immediate gratification for the sake of the future. This is the Delayed Gratification Group  (“DG Group”). A research was done on young children which found that the children who were able to delay their gratification were subsequently more successful as adults. Some of the children in the IM Group ended up in prison.

Rajen Devadeson is a financial planner. In his article titled, ‘MONEY THOUGHTS: Unpleasant but liberating truths’, he wrote:

A couple of months ago, a friend who heads an organisation I delivered a workshop to gave some sobering feedback.

While the middle-aged participants who formed the bulk of my audience at his event enjoyed my programme (based on their interactions during and after it), my friend told me some younger adults there had subsequently disparaged what I taught — concerning the importance of delayed gratification when planning our personal finances — as being “irrelevant” and “old-fashioned”.

Still, I shrugged it off and told my friend I wasn’t surprised. The core financial planning principles I believe in and teach my clients, listeners and readers aren’t complicated. Frankly, most are simple enough for children to grasp, yet some are hard for adults to heed.

When I was much younger, I wasted a lot of time trying to convince those with opposing views of the correctness of my position and the error of their ways! Now, with the passage of decades, I’ve learnt I can guide some people but I can’t effectively force anyone to do anything against their will.

That’s why I wasn’t perturbed by my friend’s sharing. I did, however, tell him that denigrating and discarding common-sense teachings about delayed gratification — giving up something good (not bad) today so as to enjoy great things tomorrow — can lead to personal financial failure down the road.

Perhaps the IM Group holds on to an unreasonable expectation that things will go well for them forever and so, there is no need to prepare for the future. But when things do not go their way, then they are caught horribly unprepared. They may unreasonably expect to be happy or joyful all the time and therefore, chase after entertainment or distractions that give them an emotional boost to try to keep themselves perpetually uplifted. An example of those in the IM Group are drug addicts who indulge in their addiction knowing full well that the addiction would destroy their futures.

Those in the DG Group expect their life to go up and down and thus, do their upmost best to prepare for the down times. They do not expect to be joyful all the time and are more accepting of their down times. They do not seek to distract themselves when they are feeling down but accept it as part of human life.

This does not mean that they do not enjoy themselves. When they do so, the enjoyment is more like a reward for past efforts and are more meaningful and enjoyable; while those in the IM Group are filled with guilt when the enjoyment is over. To those in the DG Group, when they enjoy themselves, it is truly a celebration.

The practice of the DG Group is actually a spiritual practice which is in line with the Law of Karma or Cause and Effect. The Law provides a guiding principle that if we want to have a higher chance of happiness in the future, we should lay the causes of happiness in the present moment. The more we do so, the higher the chances of having a good life in the future.

Many people do the opposite. They plant causes of future suffering such as indulging in intoxicants or developing bad eating habits. They prioritise distractions over spiritual practices. Eating is viewed as a form of entertainment instead of a means to nourish and keep the body healthy[1]. They borrow to spend money on entertainment or possessions that cannot bring future returns.

The Law of Karma gives a clear road map to have a happy life in the future but many of us just plain refuse to follow it. Instead, we rather continue with our negative habits and just pray that we do not suffer in the future. If this can work, then we can just abandon the Law of Karma.


[1] The book “Never be Sick Again” by Raymond Francis gives a very guide on how and what to eat to keep ourselves from ever falling sick

%d bloggers like this: