Musings from an Existentialism-oriented Autistic Therapist:
There is so much focus on the marshmallow test and getting people to appreciate delayed gratification that little attention is paid to another glaring problem: the people who overwork themselves to the bone and delay gratification indefinitely.
As a therapist for a variety of people, many of them super-achievers within some of the most successful companies on earth, I’m keenly aware of this issue. In fact, I’ve had this issue myself. I generally prescribe these clients books like “Die With Zero” or “Man’s Search For Meaning” trying to rattle their cages and zap them out of grinding themselves down to nothing in pursuit of finally reaching “success” (which essentially never happens because the goal post is always moving… but that’s another story). I am not sure I am successful in zapping people out of this mindset but I do my level best.
One commonality that many of these clients have is an aversion to actually enjoying their life. There is a sense of failure and “laziness” to simple enjoy the fruits of their labor. Sure, on the outside it looks like they are enjoying life. Perhaps they have a big house or go on lavish vacations but when you are their therapist, it becomes painfully obvious they don’t actually fully enjoy any of these things. Because to enjoy them would mean to slow down and smell the roses and they are too busy achieving and delaying gratification for that.
For many people, there is an underlying belief (usually developed during childhood, surprise!) that they don’t deserve to feel good or slow down to enjoy things. That they constantly need to keep achieving and being useful and that everything they do is just simply never good enough. So ultimately they never allow themselves to feel good and all of that money and achievement goes to waste.
So what is the cure for this ailment? I don’t know for sure but two things I focus on in therapy are: What is the point of life? & What is the point of achievement? If the answers to these questions are radically different, there is a problem. If the point of life is to enjoy family and live life fully then the point of achievement can’t be to run yourself ragged, those are diametrically opposed to each other. Through therapy we work together to get the answers to both of these questions more aligned. And hopefully, get people to the point of believing that feeling good is okay.