Known for combining brutal honesty with witty delivery, Ricky Gervais has garnered a reputation as a comic known to offend. Speaking his mind, his critiques on different lifestyles and beliefs can often be characterised as being what many of us think but are afraid to say. Whether shaming celebrities at their own awards evenings or ridiculing the story of Noah’s ark, Gervais has nailed the ability to take the piss out of people in a hilarious way. One classic gag on fat people has come to be viewed in the millions across social media. Whilst the joke encompasses a hilarious anecdote the punch line relies on some pretty simple thinking- you can’t be sorry for fat people since there’s (normally) no secret as to how they got that way. Eating too much and not maintaining self control makes you gain weight, sometimes we seem to ignore this fact out of a fear to offend. I’m not really interested in talking about the politics of this joke but the simple premise and presentation of self control got me thinking. It’s revealing of a simple question that is uniquely relevant to our own lives today: Why do we carry on with behaviours which are harmful for us? Now, I am not at all educated in psychology so this is all very subjective and amateur but there is something to be said about how our current society has made this question more important than ever. With numerous outlets for instant gratification at the tips of our fingers self control is arguably harder than ever to maintain. Whether it’s eating unhealthily, smoking, or spending copious amounts on our phones, daily we seem to allocate our time on the wrong things and asserting self control over these impulses which, rationally, should be a straightforward, is deceptively tough.
Like most, I often find myself scrolling through Facebook in a bit of a daze after coming back from a night out, it’s almost a vacant behaviour which seems to be of zero value to me except making me even more exhausted the next day. Even sober I can find myself just browsing out of boredom not really looking at anything. It’s stupid, it’s primitive and I’ve even developed a three strikes rule for social media when I think I’m wasting my time- if the next three posts don’t interest me I log off, unsurprisingly I’ve never had to this more than once. Whilst a short browse can’t really do you much harm for you over half of young people “feel addicted” to their phones. This habit, on some level, could be reflective to other addictions or choices that can be much more harmful such as overeating and substance abuse. Arguably, they all make us feel good temporarily in different ways: when a post gains appreciation on social media we get a kick, similarly gorging on a fat tub of Ben and Jerry’s can help lift your mood and whilst other sources like drugs and masturbation may be a whole other level of complication the premise of short term gratification unites them as phenomena. The common question in managing them, at least until they become full blown dependencies, is whether we’d rather experience instant gratification or long term benefits. There is obviously a right answer but all too often we fall for the easy gain. So why are we so bad at moderation?
One theory I’ve heard floated about is related to our natural instincts for survival. It might seem paradoxical but the reason you may have an unhealthy habit of getting through all you easter eggs in one day might be a hangover from your ancestor’s natural instincts to survive. The logic goes that because food types such as sugars and fat were so historically scarce in human diets our instincts drive us to stock up on these food types when they’re available and thus we might get a bit of an endorphin kick when we eat them to encourage that behaviour. That’s all well and good but great great great grandma and grandad didn’t have a fast food, cheesy chips or a weekly roast. The availability of food in our modern society means that eating too much is a problem that’s been unique to recent generations and with it we’ve seen a rise in a host of nasty health problems. Specifically, the dramatic increase of meat, dairy, sugars and fats in our diets – classic ‘back in my day’ grandma statement territory- is something that’s new to our living relatives. On top of having to control urges in the face of an abundance of unhealthy vices we also live in an economic environment that that actively encourages you to consume more through marketing. Rituals have been encouraged into our lives; that coffee you rely on to get your day going, the Sunday roast that’s a key part of family life, the smartphone you’ll need to replace in two to three years, the cigarettes you’ll only smoke when your drunk and the half eaten greasy kebab to finish your night off before staring at your phone or a tv for 2 hours like a zombie when you’re home. It’s no surprise that when we’re inebriated our receptors make us more vulnerable to the bright lights of an LED screen or the taste of nicotine. Making the decision to put long term benefits before short term pleasure is one lesson that we still seem to be learning.
At face value this article can come across as pretty patronising and a bit inflated. I’m distinctly aware of how often I give in to the easy choices and perhaps this piece is more reflective of a personal experience than a trend. Either way, considering the factors which drive our behaviours is something that can be beneficial to everyone. Not to say that gratifications shouldn’t ever be indulged in but like a lot of things in life moderation is key. Maybe it’s just a sense of millennial entitlement but I truly believe that this current generation faces more pressures and influences than ever. There’re so many opportunities for these easy and accessible indulgences which in the long run can lead into harmful behaviours or addictions. This is an age old issue that impacts all our lives in some form or other and whilst the modern prevalence of available vices does represent a new challenge it reflectively brings the opportunity to be more than just a cave-dweller and achieve control through self awareness.
By David Evans