I wouldn’t describe myself as being particularly patient, but I was pretty damn good at practising the art of delayed gratification as a child, which inevitably seeped into my life as an adult.
As a child, I remember on the rare occasion we were allowed a Mr Whippy ice-cream (there were 5 of us, so it was rare), I would savour every single second. I was so disciplined in just licking it, and (despite desperately wanting to), not biting or gluttonously gobbling it instantly! I wanted it to last for-ever, and so, (in my head, anyway), I made sure it did!
The ritual would commence sat on a pavement during those idyllic childhood summers. I’d create a peak with the ice cream and when the peak was barely visible (just a slither of ice-cream left), I’d flatten it with my tongue and push it through the cone. I’d then bite the end of the cone off and suck the ice-cream through, thus creating two desserts and making the ice-cream last just that little bit longer.
I’d do the same with Sarsaparilla Tablets or Pear Drops (or any sweet really), until they’d melt into nothingness; disintegrating in my mouth, with just the memory as evidence that it had ever existed. With food I loved, I’d eat around it so that I could ‘save the best til last’ and then savour the last few moments, before the heavenly bit at the end. I imagine there was an element of not believing I was entitled to getting what I wanted – when I wanted. As if I had to exercise some self-control and discipline; it was too greedy otherwise, or there hadn’t been enough suffering/ torture beforehand for me to enjoy what I wanted immediately. I told myself I had to demonstrate will-power because things had to be achieved and weren’t just given.
This wasn’t just done with food, indeed, on reflection, I practised this with most things in my life that I could control. I had perfume bottles (still got one or two), some way over 15 years old, with just remnants of perfume left, not allowing myself to finish them off! I don’t know if the guilt-thing was how I’d been brought up, exacerbated by a Catholic Primary, Secondary and Sixth Form College, but I’d feel it so keenly, that it would frustrate me that others around me didn’t punish themselves in the same way.
As a grown-up, a teacher-friend mentioned the Marshmallow Test; something she had shared with her year group in an assembly. I looked into the finer details and was relieved to know that my childhood discipline was not just a self-imposed punishment – but rather, (and arguably), symptomatic of a greater good!
It was a psychology experiment devised by Walter Mischel, exploring how children developed self-control and its ‘positive’ implications on their lives as adults. Of course, children are so familiar with the notion of resisting temptation and demonstrating self-control and will-power dating back to religious stories of Adam and Eve; indeed so many fairy tales featured a lack of self-control often resulting in punishment that seemed rather disproportionate to the ‘crime’ committed.
Up until very recently, I’d even eat say, the egg white of a poached or boiled egg first, (whilst watching my imaginary self devour the yolk) and make myself wait before that bit! We’re taught there’s no pleasure without pain; a form of punishment has to be endured beforehand if there’s to be some joy later; a penance before, I guess, a ‘heaven.’
And then things changed. Now, it seems as though I just don’t have the patience for that endurance anymore. I guess my belief system has altered. If it’s within my control, I’m eager to have what I want, when I want it, with the desire to needlessly wait becoming more and more redundant. I’ve got out of the habit of denying myself unnecessarily – and of course, there will have been a number of factors that have contributed.
Having a cat is definitely one of these factors. Apparently living your life like your cat, is the secret to a happy life. You can see how that’s true; on the whole, they look pretty well rested, can behave appallingly but are still adored and don’t bother with any of that delayed gratification nonsense! In fact, owners up and down the country are practically falling over themselves to feed their kitties who look like they may be going in the direction of a not-full-to-the-brim-food-bowl. Every cat person I know does this!
And then there’s my shop. FurCats is attached to Arison Hairdressers and often, I’ll stop to watch them work; colours, cuts, blows, perms, shampoo and sets, etc. etc. I’m mesmerised by the way they work and what they can achieve in such a short amount of time; it’s therapeutic; an art-form really. With their work, they see instant results, instant transformations, there’s instant gratification. Research shows hairdressers are the happiest workers and I can totally see why. Not only is their joy immediate, but they make others feel better instantly too! So, if I can control it, I’ll have what I want when I want and like my cat and the hairdressers, I’ve realised that instant gratification is the secret path towards happiness.