Gratification is addictive

Gratification itself is addictive, not just the individual dependencies that come to mind when we think of addiction.  Smoking, alcohol, meth, gambling, sex, social media etc. all often feel like separate aspects of our lives which leads many of us to believe that if we can just keep them separate that they won’t effect the other areas. However anybody who finds themselves seriously addicted to anything will tell you that it unquestionably can affect every aspect aspect of your whole life. There is no addiction that can truly exist in isolation without it having some gradual negative effect on the other parts of our lives.

At the end of the day, each unique addiction is but a feeding of a hunger with insufficient consideration for the lasting effects of how its being fed. Doing so in any area of life will lead to doing the same in the others. Feeding addictions, even in the earliest of stages, is a form of gratification: the shortcut path. The failure to give sufficient consideration to the cost of one’s decisions. Feeding the hunger irrespective of the consequences.

Obviously if anytime the consequence of feeding is increased appetite, it doesn’t take many cycles to find oneself neck-deep in addiction’s dependency. Red flags often go up for us when we’re looking at the signs of substance addiction: a cigarette, a bottle of booze, or a bakery sign etc. However the signs of an addiction to gratification itself can be much harder to identify. They start much earlier and can spread across many seemingly separate aspects of our lives. Building a ‘shortcut habit’ at work can be seemingly unrelated to the shortcuts one starts taking during their workout, or in their conversations with loved ones, or their meal choices, but I’m arguing here that they’re much more closely related than many of us realise. I give it as my opinion that perhaps most if not all substance addictions a born out of a previously entertained addiction to gratification itself.

The shortcuts one takes start small and spread across the whole spectrum of one’s life. Interactions with partners, family, friends, work, eating, sleeping, entertainment, home maintenance, vehicle maintenance, exercise. All aspects of our lives provide opportunities for us to either consider or ignore long-term needs while feeding immediate hungers. As one grows addicted to gratification itself, all of these various aspects of one’s life begin to suffer the same degradation.

Ignoring substance abuse entirely, many and I dare even suggest most of the people in our world have developed an addiction to gratification. I would say that every single one of us is hooked, to one degree or another. Every hunger that we’ve habitually addressed by removing it through the cheapest, quickest, easiest manner, evidences our addiction. It can be a hard call to make because without sufficiently tracking the long-term by-products, it can simply appear to be ‘the most efficient route’. Differentiating between the two therefore comes down to one’s capacity to honestly and objectively identify long-term probability outcomes based on present-time decisions. I unfortunately believe it’s fair to say that reality, for most, too largely consists of ‘responding to our hungers immediately, with little thought for the effects and by-products that can’t currently be seen’.

Sometimes we answer a desire for connection, thinking we’ll find love in the easy pick-up locations. Sometimes we answer the desire for mental stimulation, thinking we’ll find it consuming entertainment content. Sometimes we answer a desire for peace, thinking we’ll find it by pursuing vengeance on those who wronged us, or pushing for harsher justice upon whatever ‘evil-doers’ we find. Most of us answer a desire for success, thinking we’ll find it by acquiring things.

Like all addictions, the quicker one identifies and breaks free of it, the easier it is to do so. The longer one takes to admit or acknowledge it, the more bound they are and therefore the harder it is to break free. Yes, gratifying oneself in the exact same way repetitively is likely to solidify an addiction faster than other methods. However, the more one gratifies even when in a variety of ways, the more one is likely to continue gratifying in any other or even all ways. This is one reason I’m regularly feeling the need to highlight and reinforce the argument that the younger we are, the more important it is that we make the best decisions. The passing of time only increases the probability of us reinforcing the already existing cyclical gratifying habits that plague our first-world societies and (although much less so in my opinion) the world at large.

Consistent gratification exponentially increases the addictiveness and subsequent consequences of gratification. The more one gratifies the more attractive gratification can become. All addictions stem from single events often mentally categorised as thoughtless experiments, substance addictions are but more obvious evidences of pre-existing addictions to gratification itself: finding some benefit in an easily obtained refuge, we repeat the process when once again in need, further habitualising our dependence on easily obtained refuges, each time.

I don’t want to sound like a ‘dooms-day’ nut, but I have to say it, as black and white as I can, in honest review, as objectively as I can see it all, I must say: We are all far more addicted to gratification than we realise. Every day we gorge on things that are not only slowly killing us but also appearing to be the solution to the problem of our poor health.

The diminutive chain of habit is scarcely heavy enough to be felt, till it is too strong to be broken.—Dr. Johnson.

Appreciate now, that we desperately require a life-time commitment to self-asses and uproot our gratifications. Every moment we delay acknowledging this reality only increases the work that will need be done in the future when we finally do realise how desperately it was required in order to actually live, instead of just survive.

Gratification breeds itself

This concept is already addressed previously in gratification’s dysfunction, but I desire to highlight it further, within the context of addiction. Wherever our own balance point may exist, between our personal function and whatever surplus remains, we all ‘get used to’ that balance point. Both the functional and the dysfunctional climatise to their situation, seeing it as ‘normal’, no matter where we or anyone else is, on that scale. Anyone considerably more or less functional than ourselves, we consider to be unusual. This is what some might call ‘lifestyle’. Those who share a similar lifestyle to us, or those who spend their lives in similar ways, are our ‘norm’. Those with substantially different lifestyles to ours, are abnormal. Less relatable. More peculiar. At the end of the day it’s a measure of the effectiveness of our expenditure relative to our available resources: how we commonly spend our lives: financially, emotionally, physically and in every way.

Despite the extreme differences that may exist between us, we all have some degree of surplus, living on more than we actually need. Being imperfect people, there remains at least some degree of waste amongst both our ‘function’ and our ‘surplus’. When pressed, we could often find ways to live on even less than what constitutes our current level of ‘function’, or the expenditure required to maintain our lifestyle. Less time, less money, less energy, less opportunity etc. Something I think our whole world would benefit from greatly is retaining the idea that we all need much less than we think we do.

I live in Australia where the average household income is currently around $122,000 which puts us in the top 8% of the world. It’s common place in our culture to hear conversations about the “1%” but if most ‘first world’ families are living amongst the top 10% of lifestyles, surely there’s some perspective there that we can learn from. Surely focussing less on complaining about the 1% and more on appreciating the 90% that are financially worse off than us, should be prioritised. The reality is, that you, my sons, and what I expect to be most people who end up reading this book, are far better off than you realise. Try to remember this when life feels like a struggle. First world problems, of all problems, are golden problems to have. We have far more surplus than we appreciate.

Everything we’re spending that we don’t actually need, is going to be directed towards some degree/combination of gratification/edification. We increase or decrease in function based on how effectively we spend that surplus. Gratifying ourselves will decrease our function, costing us more resources to maintain ourselves in future. Edification, does the opposite. Here’s the real struggle: Each time we choose gratification, we become more dysfunctional, increasing the cost of our ongoing function, decreasing the remaining available surplus, and therefore increasing the probability of repeat gratification. Each time we choose gratification, the probability of choosing it again increases while it becomes increasing more difficult to choose otherwise. 

We often default to gratification when we’re tired or already feeling under pressure, hoping the easier option or cheaper cost is going to help lighten our existing load. But it doesn’t. It only makes it worse. This ‘tightening’ of resources is literally and genuinely felt, often categorised as anxiety or stress, as we feel the burden of an increasing work-load that we often incorrectly attribute it to miscellaneous or unknown/additional problems when in reality the primary contributing factor is a selective decrease in our own effectiveness: our capacity to function.

Gratification costs function. The more dysfunctional we are, the more it costs to deal with and correct/improve our dysfunctional state. Increasing the cost to function, we can’t but also decrease the remaining surplus.

They say when you’re digging yourself into a hole, stop digging, but what gratification can occur unconsciously the reality is you could have spent the last few months, years or decades digging your gratifying hole to suddenly find yourself stretched to your limits to make ends meet even for the basics of life. That which could have easily been covered initially using excess, now requires a great portion of your excess as well. Dependence has been fostered for too long.

Gratification is exponentially self-destructive. It works like a growing drag or a constantly enlarging anchor. Shortens patience, focus, attention and pursues quick-fix styled entertainment and increases frequency and intensity of gratifying hungers. You address the hunger faster, but don’t actually fix the problem so when hunger causes it to rise again, it’s bigger than before, and the cycle continues.

Trying to justify any degree of gratification is just feeding the cycle further. Never waste your energy feeding gratification, including justifying its existence. Instead, never try to make the issues seem smaller than they really are. Like all failings or weaknesses, we best overcome them by completely and honestly acknowledging them, and then taking the required steps to overcome or deal with the reality of the issue. Trivialising it only hinders the repair work. Own it, apologise, add it to ‘the infinite list’ and get back to work correcting/improving your world.

Can’t gratify your way out of addiction

Sometimes decreasing one’s function (just like what happens when we gratify ourselves) is a tactic used intentionally and even for good purpose, but we should be wary of its use. Governments, leaders, authorities etc. very often intentionally decrease the function/capabilities of those in their stewardship in the hope that doing so deters them from doing bad things. A great example in Australia is the recent movement to make welfare payments via a debit card that prohibits individuals from withdrawing cash from the card. The hope is that this makes it easier for individuals to spend their welfare payments on necessary items and that they are then less likely to spend it on wasteful or unnecessary things.

In this scenario, ironic as it may be, the authority seeks to decrease gratification through decreased function. They want others to stop gratifying so much, so they directly seek to decrease their ability to gratify. The problem with this as a long-term strategy is that it also decreases their ability to edify, as the choice to choose between the two becomes more limited. This can easily lead to increased cravings for gratification as it becomes a ‘forbidden fruit’ scenario where it’s wanted but the only reason it’s not had is due to an inability to acquire it. Once available again, the hunger is substantially even greater than before when the opportunity once again reveals itself.

The problem highlights a failure to address the required improvement of the individual’s self-discipline. The need to work from the inside-out. If the decision is made externally instead of internally, the internal foundation required to continue to make the same decision going forward, doesn’t exist. There is only a dependence on the external frameworks to ensure the same decisions continue to be made. Maintaining those external frameworks for others is an extremely costly exercise and of course, freeing people from their dependence upon such things is the ideal. We each need to regularly exercise that choice to prioritise edification over gratification and doing so regularly, consistently, independently, is the only way we remain strong enough to continue that fight. Without exercising it regularly our will atrophies. Taking away the choice also takes away the opportunity to exercise.

Yes, sometimes that might be temporarily beneficial, but it can never be a permanent answer. I do honestly believe that there are a number of instances or scenarios where decreasing or limiting one’s ability to gratify is a great and an important thing. I also believe however, that such an approach is not, and can not, be the long-term solution. Such simply encourages dependence upon those restrictions to maintain functionality. Eventually, one must transition from that stage into one where the restrictions are gradually removed and the individual, through their own choice to do so, still avoids the gratification. Not due to restriction, but due to will, due to self-discipline, due to be sufficiently fit. Fit enough to have an honest appreciation through personal experience of the negative effects of gratification and the positive effects of edification.

Any business owner, government leader, group counsellor, or any individual in a position of authority who believes they can provide real, lasting edification for those in their stewardship through increased rules and regulations are fooling themselves. It is possible for such to be an effective stepping stone, but never an end game. It only works as a temporary method to help individuals re-evaluate and reorganise their resource expenditure so they can prepare to once again take the increased resources/freedoms but with renewed commitment, focus and abilities. For leaders to edify, they MUST increase the personal capabilities of the individual. This includes their independence, resourcefulness, and freedom to choose either way.

Stewards have a responsibility to edify those in their stewardship to the point of them no longer requiring a steward. They must increase their independence. If those in the stewardship are dependant upon the rules and enforcements of the steward in order to do good/be good/grow etc. there remains work to be done by the steward. The objective must be to edify them to a point of the steward no longer being required by them. All stewards who facilitate their policies, training and management in a way that prolongs the dependence of people upon the steward, are gratifying. It might be difficult to see, but those edified to freedom from one’s stewardship have more capacity to continue on doing good than that of any permanent subject, and can also end up with an incomparable loyalty and dedication to the welfare of steward that’s unobtainable via other means.

If we’re going to aim at decreasing function to minimise the addictive cycles of gratification, it’s important to appreciate that it only works as a preparatory stepping stone to edification. Only inside-out models work permanently.

Never is best

This is a particularly interesting concept that I confess to not really understanding or conceptualising in this way until just a few years ago. I think most of us would appreciate that when it comes to addictions like smoking, or drinking, or anything really, that the ideal avoidance is to have never smoked or drunk or tried the edible etc. in the first place. Nothing overly complicated there. The addiction is best avoided by having never fed it at all. Exactly why and how it’s best, especially compared to those who have experienced addiction and recovered from it, continues to intrigue me.

Appreciate that addiction, like all things, is had by degrees. To many, perhaps even most of those ‘degrees’ (to which one is addicted), recovery is a valid option. The individual has the capacity to eventually return to a world where the previous addiction no longer has any controlling influence over one’s life. However, I think reality quickly points out that of those who have recovered from addiction often consider it in an ironically similar way to those who suffer any great tragedy in the realisation that: to a very large extent, our world doesn’t entirely recover. There is always some consequences, or influences, that remain. Instead, we simply learn to minimise unwanted influence to a sufficient extent that we can manage it on an ongoing basis. It’s kind of like after having spent a lifetime building and improving upon the most attractive, slimiest, fastest, and smoothest slippery slide in our whole world, we eventually decide to climb up out of it and we never want to use it again. The slide is incapable of being dismantled or filled in. It stays there forever. We just learn to stay far enough away from it that we don’t have to endure the challenge of desperately trying to climb out of it, anymore.

I’m a big believer in second chances, forgiveness, repair, moving on, letting go etc. I believe that basically all of us have the capacity to return to a state of limitless potential, despite how much of our lives we’ve spent investing into limiting that potential. However I don’t believe that the return to such a state puts the individual in a position better than, or even ‘as good as’ the one they were in before they began investing into their own limitations. The slide is always there and if I get too close I’m far more likely to accidentally slip and end up much further down it than the next guy. It remains super dangerous to me, indefinitely, having little to no effect on others who haven’t spent the same amount of time ‘schmicking’ up their own slide.

If I burned a house down due to my abysmal cooking skills, and furthermore consequently burned down my neighbours house as well, spending years improving my chef skills to even a Tony Tierney level doesn’t unburn the homes. Even if those skills paid for replacement homes that were twice as good, there remains countless consequences that don’t just disappear because I’ve learned my lesson.

Many believe that because we should try and because trying itself inherently involves failure that we require failure in order to succeed, implying those who fail and recover are as good as or better off than those who succeed without failure. Sure, such examples will definitely exist, because there are infinite possibilities, but ‘as a rule’, I disagree. If it were true then we would aim for failure constantly, but it’s not aimed for, it’s only allowed and the only reason we allow for it is because it permits us to better see the correct formula for success. Yes we can unquestionably learn from failure but when also giving consideration to the cost of failure and recovery, it’s surely a wiser man who learns from the failures of others instead of insisting he experience each failure personally.

Let’s put it another way. Our optimal selves, on any given day, is a re-achievable state even after a failure to remain optimal for any given reason. However, the ‘post failure self’ is incapable of ‘catching up’ to the theoretical potential of the ‘pre-failure self’. Yes, the individual who falters is capable of correcting mistakes and moving forward. Despite the fact that an faltering individual is capable of returning to an uncapped state of growth & progress, he’s never able to ‘catch back up’ with where he could have otherwise been, had he continued on diligently without having faltered.

Every day that the faltered continues without faltering is indeed a successful day, but in that same day he who has not previously faltered has also seen a successful day, and that day has been built upon from a greater base/greater maximising potential. Mistakes can be overcome so that they do not cap your future growth. Uncapping that which was temporarily capped can’t undo the reality that the individual could be further progressed had he never been capped in the first place. 

It’s not possible to make any gratifying choice and not suffer for it. It doesn’t matter if we think the consequences are isolated to our words, our thoughts, our desires, or perhaps we think they’re isolated to specific connections like our kids or co-workers but at the end of the day, it’s always going to contribute to one’s own detriment. It’s not possible to choose wrong without wronging ourselves, even when we think otherwise.

Even when we think our gratification is harmless or doesn’t effect anybody else, every failure to do or choose what edifies, decreases the potential benefit gained by our future self. Remembering each choice is not just the choice itself but a vote of reinforcement for a way of living, solidifying a pathway of probability, increasing the likelihood that we’ll repeat the same kinds of choices. Effectively, the younger we are the greater the influence our decisions have over our own future.

NEVER is the greatest ‘pave-setter’ or perhaps better defined as ‘way-stopper’ because it ensures that there is NO ‘re-tracible’ path. Retracing paths is always much easier than establishing them in the first place. Even if we’ve spent our whole lives being encouraged to take a path, which obviously lays some degree of ground-work for the path, never having walked it ourselves is a great selection point. Better yet is never entertaining the idea of the path with those who insist upon it or entertain it themselves. Like refusing to walk it theoretically, or even in one’s mind.

Every single choice we make, creates a connection to our core, effecting (even if seemingly only in a tiny way) our entire existence. That connection is either going to be gratifying, or satisfying, or edifying. Every single choice reinforces one of those connections. Each gratifying one will need to then also be severed/replaced, if we eventually want to free ourselves of its disease. Anytime we choose it, we’re increasing the work-load required to get rid of it again in the future, which is always harder than not establishing it in the first place. Prevention better than cure.

It’s like an investment where one’s error is a withdrawal. Despite the fact that one can obtain that lost money and recontribute it, doing so doesn’t make up for the interest lost had the withdrawal not been made. 

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