Things worth waiting for


We want to see a movie and—ta-dum!—we download it. We’re craving strawberries; they’re available, even in winter. We want to see our friends across the world: Skype! We hardly have any time to savor anticipation anymore. Journalist Lisette Thooft asks how we can bring that feeling back into our lives.

Today it’s all very fast and convenient. But maybe we’re losing an important quality: the pleasure of delayed gratification. Being able to wait for something you want is good for you, say the psychologists. In the infamous Stanford marshmallow study of the late ’60s and early ’70s, children were given a marshmallow that they were told they could eat right away, but that if they could wait fifteen minutes, they would get two marshmallows. Less than a third of the children could summon up the patience to wait for the second marshmallow. Years later, a follow-up study showed that those kids who controlled themselves to get the greater pleasure later did better on all fronts: they got better grades at school, and they were more capable, healthier and happier.


“Because of ubiquitous instant gratification, something paradoxical happened in our society,” says Dutch author Mark Mieras in Liefde (Love), a book that explores the neurobiology of craving. “Because we have so little time to long for something, there is a kind of restlessness in our lives which leads to us enjoying ourselves less,” he says. “If you always get everything you want right away, you’re constantly on the treadmill of dissatisfaction, always on the lookout for the next product, the next set of new clothes, the next gadget, without ever reaching the stage of quiet enjoyment and being satisfied with what you have.”

Postponing pleasure can actually be wonderful. And it doesn’t have to be for big things—you can do it all the time in daily life. What’s better: grabbing a quick sandwich that’s available on the supermarket shelf, or sitting down to a meal that you’ve planned, prepared and served over several hours? Of course, you can eat faster, but you won’t savor the experience in the same way. There’s nothing wrong with casual encounters or spontaneous parties, either—but a party or a date that you can really anticipate for a while makes you feel that life is worth waiting for.

  • The full article ‘I just can’t wait’ can be found in Issue 10 (not available in the Flow Shop).

Text Lisette Thooft Photography Photos by Lanty/