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The Difficult Choice of Long-Term Benefits Over the Short Term

Perennial joy or passing pleasure? This is the choice one is to make always.

— Katha Upanishad 1:2:2

Everything we do has a choice. When it comes to the choice between joy and pleasure, I find it considerably difficult because most of us associate joy with pleasure, even if that pleasure doesn’t last forever. In the case of this meditation, joy is an everlasting benefit whereas pleasure is fleeting. We enjoy pleasure for a little bit, but then it goes away. What if it’s a decision between pleasure and pain? We know that pleasure brings its short-term benefits. However, it may be the case that pain brings discomfort in the short-term, but an unending peace that we can’t necessarily see until we go through the suffering. Most of us will choose the pleasure every single time. It’s a difficult decision to choose something that may give us long-term benefits over something that brings instant gratification.

Short-Term Goals Tend to Fail

Choosing the long-term benefit even when we can’t see it requires self-discipline whereas short-term gratification typically preaches releasing inhibition. As if you were to feel the rain on your skin, for example. I instinctively know that a project is going to fail if the team decides to focus on a goal we can see in the short term. This is as opposed to something that’s further out in time which takes more effort to accomplish.

For instance, creating an audience focused on engagement is much harder to cultivate. Growth can be bought with money. However, many would see low growth numbers and change their goals because of growth’s vanity. The result is a large group of people that may not care about the content with which we first set out to engage with. The increased number of people joining our group was exciting to see in the short-run but eventually meant nothing in the long.

The reason we choose instant gratification is because it strokes our ego. It gives us something we can say that we accomplished. We have this amount of people in our newsletter. It doesn’t matter if that amount of people read it. Instant gratification typically delivers on its promise, but much like a drug, it wears off. We find ourselves looking for the next high. The antidote to this addiction to pleasure is not to do the thing that is pleasing, or displeasing. It’s best to choose the thing that has a greater impact on our well-being.

Awareness Before Deciding

This is what all decision-making comes down to. Am I only accepting this job because of the belief that it will only bring me the pleasure that my current job isn’t giving me? Will that pleasure last? Is working long hours, or studying into the wee hours of the night going to be worth the accomplishment that I receive from doing so? Or will it only damage my peace of mind and cause resentment because the recognition of things I’ve done is fleeting? Should I call out my friend for hurting me with his words? Yelling at my child will make me feel better because it lets off steam, but will it give me peace? If the benefit of the choice is easily seen, it’s probably a choice that won’t bring a long-lasting benefit. Even if the alternative brings pain. We know, that just like pleasure, pain doesn’t last forever.