A neighbor and I had an across-the-hedge chat the other day. He’s a little more prominent than I am (which isn’t saying much…but still). He was lamenting the fact that people approach him regularly and want to know what the “Secrets of the Upper Class” are. Most often, he says, they want to know the secret that Old Money knows and uses in order to create and preserve wealth.
His response, to me in private, anyway, was expletive-laden, exasperated, and, I have to admit, somewhat justified. This is a man who works 10 hours a day, five days a week, and a couple of hours on Saturday mornings. (Sundays are reserved for his wife and kids.) He plows most of the profits from his business back into it. He’s constantly looking for investment opportunities to help young entrepreneurs get started, and, let’s be honest, enrich himself. Any luxuries are lavished upon his wife first (she likes antiques) and local charities. “I pay myself last,” he has said.
The concept is known as delayed gratification, and it’s not a new one. You work, and perhaps sacrifice something now, in order to achieve something of greater value in the future.
That’s what my neighbor does, and that’s what a lot of Old Money people do on a regular basis. What transpires during this mental process? How is it good for you? Let me explain.
First of all, choosing a goal that you want to work toward and accomplish, something that requires effort, puts you on the path of Work. This is a vital component for happiness. Work is essential to making things happen. It provides direction for our energies and allows us to provide for ourselves and our families, as well as contribute to the world.
Second, when you select a goal and have to work for it, you will, over time, become very good at making sure that what you are working for means something to you. One or two experiences of working very hard to obtain something, and then finding out you don’t give a hoot about it, well, you’ll get to know yourself very quickly, and learn what’s really meaningful to you.
Simply put: delayed gratification distills the decision-making process.
Delayed gratification builds self-discipline. I’ve heard self-discipline described as ‘doing within while you’re without.’ It’s also simply the ability to do what needs to be done, when it needs to be done, whether you like it or not. It’s a cornerstone to education and a necessity to living as a functioning adult. Nobody likes it; they just like the results they get.
Finally, delayed gratification builds faith. This faith can be in ourselves, in the importance of our goal, or in our God, whatever religion, deity, or doctrine we adhere to. You’re not going to accomplish much if you don’t have faith. The bigger your belief in yourself, your goal, and your God, the more you are able to accomplish, and the better you’ll handle setbacks.
Delayed gratification is a central element to the Old Money culture. With patience and persistence, it pays huge dividends in terms of quality of life.
It’s not really a secret. It’s really quite simple. Embrace it.
19 thoughts on “Upper Class Secret: Delayed Gratification”
There has been some interesting research lately on the subject of decision fatigue and how, among other things, it causes people to give in to immediate gratification at the expense of long term goals. I notice you have included a painting of Sisyphus by the Renaissance painter Titian. I assume you don’t mean to imply that gratification should be delayed eternally?
Oh my no! There’s got to be a reward, which is why I’ll be posting more often in the future on the Old Money Rewards Program. I think, without rewards, life is monotonous. The key thing is simply when to enjoy them and how much to spend on them. Thanks again, Amy. – BGT
I had the same thought, Amy. All I could think about was Sisyphus rolling that rock up the hill for all eternity. Yikes!
Delayed…not denied! Hope you’re well, Keith. – BGT
I think Byron, you could not pick better picture for the topic. People confuse delaying gratification in terms of developing family human capital, for instance – the real family asset, with delaying gratification in terms of saving money now to buy something material later.
Well, for us who sucked the Old Money philosophy with the breast milk, the concept is easy and we take it with the same routine like others getting home after work and turn their TVs on.
The meaning of Sisyphus has to do more with “sophos” than with hard work to the eternity. The knowledge and virtues are what mater the most and we have moral obligation to pass them on to next generations and teach them to do the same with generations coming after them. This is what we push to the eternity.
Yes, delaying gratification, sacrificing us and now for better future for our children and grand children. If necessary, to the eternity.
Great post and even greater picture (with well hidden meaning).
Thank you, sir! We’ll all keep pushing… – BGT
Delayed gratification is THE secret. I think the confusion lies in the idea of sacrificing now for more or better material things in the future. This is only partly the case. Most of the benefits are intangible and permanent. Moving to a better town with higher quality schools benefits the family unit in countless ways while elevating your own social standing. Being selective in your household purchases and attire means that quality is valued over quantity. I have been delaying gratification for some time now and I’ve been gratified the whole journey.
Good call, Dario: the benefits are most often intangible, but permanent and incredibly valuable. Thanks. – BGT
Another great post Byron, thank you. The groundwork for delayed gratification is apparently laid very early on. In child psychology (which I am reading a lot about these days) there’s the famous marshmallow experiment: (copy & paste quote from parentingscience.com) “Preschoolers were given the choice between eating one treat now or two treats later, and the kids who demonstrated the greatest capacity to wait ended up, in subsequent years, with better outcomes. They performed better on scholastic achievement tests, were more likely to finish college, and less likely to develop substance abuse problems.” Fantastic isn’t it?
IMO the foundation for delayed gratification is laid very early on and we benefit from it for life. Adults who can’t control their impulses are statistically more likely to engage in substance abuse, suffer from obesity or depression, conspicuous consumption or even the inability to enjoy long-term relationships.
By the very definition old money families (I’m not from one) teach impulse control to their very young ones and preach it all through adolescence. Otherwise it would be virtually impossible for these families to pass on any meaningful wealth and culture over generations.
Hi David, Thank you for the insight about the child psychology studies. Fascinating information. – BGT
As soon as you replace marshmallow by kohlrabi or broccoli the test will fail. Marshmallows, skittles, macaroons … will work for sure. The reason is that you boost up glycemic index in the blood with artificial sugar. And that’s what the limbic system – the primitive brain loves. Pleasure, sweetness, association and memory with good times and feeling…. Have you ever wondered why those sweets have so smooth and round shape? Why it feels so good eating yogurt, so you cannot stop?
By relying on and boosting limbic system you will create perfectly obedient consumer. Totally brainwashed pleasure slave. Nothing for Old Money.
Now let’s look at the neocortex. The only part of human brain that can learn, analyze (only in few humans), think, calculate ….. This part is the slowest part of our brain. This part – if in early childhood development encouraged correctly by the parents (the most important time for children is 9 month in utero plus up to 3,5y – the brain volume expands by 85% +-) will tell the young one that kohlrabi is better for digestion because it contains fiber, natural sugar and lots of water. This is much better choice than sweets.
This part of the brain was responsible for Byron’s books. The limbic system – the lazy one suggested that it would be better to procrastinate. Of course, the writing requires thinking, analyzing, writing and rewriting, consulting with others……. It is better not to write. The limbic system can easily override the neocortex.
However, the neocortex was on the track to go over the obstacles, was willing to work intellectually, write and rewrite, think and rethink …. working on syntax, thinking about how easy or difficult it would be for the reader to grasp the idea………. It is lots of and hard work to work intellectually. You are tired, you have doubts, will the books be appreciated, will the people hate them, will I send clear and correct message ……..? He had to delay gratification of doing nothing. And now, when the books are well received, he can procrastinate enjoining fruitful life, until his neocortex will kick and he will start the new book. (I hope Byron, you do not mind that I revealed how you work 😉 )
Once you teach your children to use the neocortex and how to suppress the limbic system, and explain the benefits, the children will think and learn for themselves. They no longer will be obedient and blind slaves waiting for their brain to be reworded by the artificial sugar. They will be hungry for knowledge, which they will start using for analyzing and planning and delaying gratification.
They do not teach that at schools! Once your neocortex is developed properly and you know how to use it, plus your cogitative thinking is developed to operational (highest) stage – you are out of control! You think for your self and do not need brainwashing. You can decipher the message, crack the code.
Careful! You might be a danger for them!
Thank you! Great information. I didn’t know this. Much appreciated. – BGT
This is really a question of time preference, which, let’s be honest, differs greatly among individuals and racial groups.
As we mature and gradually obtain more of the material items we desire, and hopefully save and invest, delaying gratification seems to become easier, perhaps because you know you can go and buy it anytime you choose. I think it’s more difficult when you’re younger and still struggling that you wonder if you’ll ever be able to have anything at all. All the more reason to start teaching this lesson early, as was mentioned by yourself and other readers. At least that is how it was for me. Now, I can pass on most anything if it’s not a true necessity. That’s not to say I don’t buy for pleasure, I do. But I’m quite selective now and am happy with my decisions. Lesson learned!
Thank you, Bev. You’re right. It is easier when you’re older. – BGT
Amen! Every time the kids get what we refer to in our family as the “I wants and gimme, gimmes” I remind them that we save 30% of our income in long term savings and give 10% to the church. This means the 60% left over has to be prioritized and not wasted on spur of the moment frivolous expenditures. Purchases should be thoughtful and with an eye toward long-term value. It’s the difference between purchasing the $5 latte a couple of times a week or saving that money and traveling for a long weekend in a great city a couple of times a year. The latte tastes great, but too many will make you fat. The travel memories will last a life time and only enrich your life with no nasty side effects.
Thank you, Janet, for the insights into how your family prioritizes. I think it really helps readers to hear it. – BGT
This is really just a reflection of different time preferences that, to be honest, vary among individuals and groups.
Thanks, LBF. And welcome. I’m traveling at present, so approval and reply to comments is sometimes not as quick as I’d like. Hope you’ll continue to read and enjoy. – BGT