Our culture often prescribes instant gratification as a cure for our deep desire for happiness. As a result we often fall into the trap of believing that we would be happy if we could just do what we feel like doing right at any given moment.
Our insatiable appetite for instant gratification tends to lead us farther and farther away from character, virtue, integrity, wholeness, and our authentic self. Coupled with our untamed affinity with instant gratification is our mistaken notion that freedom is the right or ability to do whatever we want. I meet people all the time who tell me they want to start their own business. When I ask them why, I expect to hear that they want to do something they are more passionate about or because they want to be involved in more meaningful work. But the most common response I get is that then they won’t have a boss telling them what to do. High school students are always complaining about the limitations placed on them by parents and teachers.
Do we really believe that a life without structure or discipline will yield the happiness we desire? Besides, how successful do you suppose your business would be if you just did whatever you wanted whenever you wanted to? What sort of financial shape would you be in if you bought whatever you wanted, whenever you wanted it? How good would your health be if you ate as much as you wanted, of whatever you wanted, whenever you wanted it? How healthy would your relationships be if you did what you felt like doing only when you felt like doing it?
A life without self-discipline doesn’t lead to happiness—it leads to ruin. Every area of our life—physical, emotional, intellectual, spiritual, professional, and financial—benefits from self-discipline.
Does that mean we should never engage in instant gratification? No. But it does mean that we cannot allow instant gratification to guide and direct every decision. We need to move beyond the notion that discipline is someone else telling us what to do and celebrate the self-discipline that liberates us. How much discipline is enough? The answer depends on how happy you want to be, and for how long you want that happiness to last.
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