Is Getting What We Want Whenever We Want It Really Good For Us?


At a recent event, my teenage daughter was asked by a teenage boy whom she didn’t know if she wanted a boyfriend. She responded, “Yes, I guess, if I like him.” He then asked for her number. Later that afternoon, the boy whom she didn’t know texted her and by the end of the day, they had exchanged at least a dozen texts about essentially nothing. He was now signing his electronic communications with the words, “I love you” and others with multiple “xo”s.

Our kids are growing up in an age of instant gratification. Young people have an expectation (and experience) that they should be able to get what they want, now, with very little or no work. Want the answer to a question? Google it in seconds, no thinking needed. Want to watch a particular show, stream it now, no waiting for an old fashioned showtime. Want a little validation? Post on social media…“likes” on their way. Crave a new product, it’s here by morning. Want to be a star? Create a six second viral video on vine. Want to feel like you’re “giving back,” wrap your FB profile in the flag of the moment. Whatever we want is available — on demand.

At the same time, our kids are growing up with the belief that life should come easy — if you have to work hard at something then something is wrong. Why work hard when there’s surely an easier way?

We are turning over our daily tasks to technology, teaching technology to do for us what we used to do for ourselves. Having nothing to do is considered an accomplishment. Technology allows us to remove much of the endeavor that life used to require.

It is fair to say that everything that has really mattered to me, that has been deeply satisfying in my life, exists as a result of effort exerted and time invested. I am not alone in this feeling.

We humans need to be challenged. We derive mental, emotional and spiritual nourishment when we persevere, experience difficulty, learn, and ultimately, grow. Time and effort are required ingredients in the experience of satisfaction, meaning, and even joy; time and effort are the gatekeepers to life’s riches. There are no short cuts.

For thirty years I trained and competed as an equestrian athlete. I spent thousands of hours in the saddle, on the way to mastery. Nothing about the process was easy or fast. And yet, nothing has built my self confidence, my inner strength more than this pursuit. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t call on the rewards of this process. Self-worth is built with the sweat equity of effort, time and challenge. True self esteem can not gestate in the immediate or the easy.

After a couple days of my daughter’s new boyfriend sending her ily (I love you) acronyms and winking emojis, the romance dissolved. No surprise. Real relationships, the ones that we know we can rely on, that nourish and enrich us, once again, require two ingredients: time and effort.

As a psychotherapist, interfaith minister, parent, and human being living in this virtual world, I have witnessed an increase in the presence of depression in our young adult population. Young people are lacking a sense of meaning and feeling unsatisfied at a deep level. Simultaneously, there has been a deterioration in the depth, reliability, and connectedness of friendships and relationships in general. The reason, in part, for these unfortunate changes is that we have taken the values and expectations that we have learned through our relationship with technology, and applied them to all of life. And yet, immediacy and ease, as values for the more profound aspects of our existence, don’t work.

Take a minute to name a few aspects of your life that bring you a sense of deep meaning, satisfaction or joy. Ask yourself, which of these took time to create? Which take time to maintain? Which could not exist without your own effort and commitment?

You might notice that most if not all of the meaningful parts of your life are also those that were created from your hard work and effort, over time.

Speed and ease have their place in life, but as values by which to determine our behavior, prioritize our choices and relate with one another, they are not prudent. The fact that we have exerted effort and spent time on something is not evidence of our failure but quite the opposite, evidence of our success — wisdom. And, we will reap the benefits of that effort and time, that success, in the form of a meaningful, satisfying and well-enjoyed life.

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