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Gratification versus Authentic Happiness

Do you know what constitutes authentic happiness? After all, we receive a barrage of confusing messages on the subject throughout our lives. One of the loudest is that gratifying our needs will make us happy—eat this food, buy that car, take a special vacation, learn this, purchase that. Much of what passes for happiness these days is what’s called short-term gratification and has little nutritive value emotionally. In order to achieve true happiness, it pays to understand how it differs from gratifying needs.

When we seek gratification, we are looking to please ourselves in the moment. In psychology, the word is most often used to describe the needs of infants and children who, naturally in these stages of development, know no better than to demand that their emotional and physical needs be met instantly (if not sooner!). They lack the ability to consider whether meeting their needs (for a bottle or a toy or a cookie) is good for them or not. All they know is that they want what they want and they want it now. When their need is met, they feel satisfied and filled with pleasure—in a word, gratified.

Through the teachings of and interactions with our parents and the rest of the world, we come to learn over time that we cannot get all of our physical or emotional needs gratified instantly. Sometimes folks are busy and we have to wait. Sometimes they tell us that what we want isn’t good for us. When we’re children, it’s the job of adults to help us tolerate not receiving immediate gratification so that we don’t suffer excessive distress and disappointment. It’s also their job to teach us that not seeking instant gratification and not getting it may afford us the chance to achieve greater happiness.

Of course, there are parents who haven’t a clue that there’s a difference between gratification and happiness and who are unable to give us correct insights into the two. If you grew up with parents who gave in to your every whim, rigidly denied you appropriate gratification, or randomly ping-ponged between the two responses, you may naturally have difficulty in this arena. Gratifying yourself with pleasure every once in a while is natural and normal. Basing a life on immediate gratification not only indicates a lack of emotional maturity, but prevents you from attaining true and lasting happiness.

When you’re faced with eating decisions, are you more interested in gratifying yourself in the moment or creating a relationship with food that will bring you future health and happiness? If you’re used to instant pleasure, it’s time to realize that every time you give in to it, you are forgoing authentic happiness. Is that what you really want?

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