How Choices Directly Impact Your Success in Life
Tl;dr: Saying no to instant gratification to favor greater gratification later is a high indicator of future success in a capitalist society. It all comes down to which choices are made.
Today is hard, tomorrow will be harder, but the day after tomorrow is beautiful. Most people will die tomorrow night – Jack Ma
Have you ever heard of the marshmallow experience? A kid is being told that she can have one marshmallow now, or two later if she waits. What choices will she make? What would you do?
This harmless experience is actually fundamental in psychology as it describes a crucial attitude for success in life: the capacity to delay instant gratification in exchange for greater results later.
It all boils down to asking this simple question: can you do what you should instead of doing what you want? Can you make the right choices?
Defining What You “Want to Do”
Nature is a bitch. It has built us lazy and prone to liking dopamine which made sense when we appeared some 350 000 years ago.
Food was scarce (or at least not as abundant as today) which meant humans had higher chances to survive if they ate instantly everything they could find. “Eat now, as you may not eat later” was the rule.
Coping with food scarcity, humans developed inherently lazy to save energy to a maximum. Life was organized around one purpose and one purpose only: survival. And your chances were higher for the greedy and lazy than for the generous and hard-working.
Instantaneous consumption feels good, and we are all prone to follow this way of living. Philosophically, those that tend to maximize pleasure are called hedonists.
Hedonism describes one’s pursuit of pleasure attained through external means such as eating sugar, drinking alcohol, partying, maybe smoking some weed, playing video games, watching porn, gossiping, and more (these types of choices).
Hedonists embody the definition of the expression “enjoying life”. They spend their money now and enjoy their lives in the present moment. They tend to favor doing things that will make them feel good instantly while simultaneously getting away from all things painful.
Contextually explained, they eat their marshmallow right away.
Hedonism’s opposite is eudaimonism, a word I have just invented out of the term Eudaimonia meaning “human’s prosperity”, at least according to Wikipedia.
While the idea of Eudaimonia is itself not entirely clear, let’s say it represents the complete opposite of hedonism.
Similarly to Buddhism, eudaimonism does not seek pleasure under external forms, but long-term happiness through inner self-actualization. Satisfaction depends upon one’s work on himself and cannot be found in the external world.
It is through work and hardship that one reaches life-long “pleasure”, not in dopamine-generating activities.
Eudaimonists manage to say no to instant gratification to work towards greater long-term results available later in their journey.
Hedonism vs Eudaimonism
Hedonism and eudaimonism represent two philosophical schools of thought completely opposed in this society, both practically and philosophically.
Hedonism is to happiness what painting over the hole is to fixing the wall: it is a short-term solution that hides consequences without fixing the cause.
Hedonism is expressed through advertising catchphrases such as “life is now”, “feel good”, “live in the moment” and everything in between.
Eudaimonism aims at the exact opposite: instead of dealing with the consequences of an issue, it seeks the roots of that issue to fix it permanently.
Eudaimonism embodies the idea that “she who goes through hardship and efforts now, enjoys greater pleasure later”. The eudaimonists are found among gym-goers or entrepreneurs, people that understand the importance of initial sacrifice for greater wealth in the future.
To speak plainly, should both hedonists and eudaimonists be stranded on a desert island, hedonists would burn the woods for heat while eudaimonists would make a boat out of it to escape.
Two visions, two results.
While eudaimonism would have probably gotten you killed in the wild, it is today one of the single best methods to ensure future success due to the current societal system in place: capitalism.
Capitalism is built to drive eudaimonists to work hard and produce, motivated by the financial resources they receive in exchange. Similarly (but opposite), capitalism encourages hedonists to spend their money and consume to experience instant gratification.
This principle is so important that an entire industry has been built to solely exploit it: marketing. To motivate consumers to buy, nothing works like promising instantaneous happiness.
Constantly seeking pleasure, hedonists have a harder time not buying into advertisers’ promises which lead them to buy more stuff and spend more money.
The possibility to have their needs (we should say envies) immediately fulfilled makes them less prone to project themselves into the future and to invest in long-term projects.
Eudaimonists are the exact opposite. They can delay instant gratification for higher returns later, which allows them to avoid the marketing trap. As a result, they better manage their money and are able to invest in long-term projects.
From a purely empirical point of view, they are much better equipped to succeed in our current society where traits of persistence, dedication, and commitment matter most. In a meritocratic society, successful people are the ones that work the most and the longest.
They are the ones that say no to ten years of marshmallow to be rewarded with a million of them at the end.
The Importance of Choices
I think we tend to underestimate people’s intelligence sometimes. Anyone being presented with the marshmallow test knows that they should choose the long-term-2-marshmallows option.
However, their desire for instant pleasure (probably due to some unhappy inner feelings) makes them choose the first option. Similarly, anyone participating in activities such as taking drugs, smoking, or heavy drinking knows that these activities are not what they should be doing.
As such, we can conclude that anyone’s relative success (with cognitive capacities taken into account) depends on the choices they have made.
The Bottom Line
Choosing hardship now to enjoy greater gratification later is the single, if not the most important characteristic one should adopt to be successful.
It is expressed through the capacity to do what one should be doing instead of what one wants to do.
The refusal of external sources of pleasure and the dedication to work and efforts in order to reach abundant long-term goals are characteristics embodied by the top successful people in their field.
Eudaimonism is not biologically nor cognitively determined. While we are all attracted to the hedonist lifestyle, those that make it are the ones that choose to resist it.
You can do what you want, or you can do what you should.
The choice is entirely yours.
Which one will you make?