Internal Gratification vs External Gratification

Gratification means: the act of pleasing.

Recently I have begun to explore the importance of internal gratification relative to external gratification, using happiness as a measure. Before getting into this, let me explain first what I mean by internal and external gratification.

Gratification is the act of pleasing.

  • External gratification is the act of pleasing others. Relating this to happiness as a measure, external gratification refers to the happiness that we achieve as a result of pleasing others.
  • Internal gratification is the act of pleasing ourselves. Relating this to happiness as a measure, internal gratification refers to the happiness that we achieve as a result of pleasing ourselves.

The difference between the two is so unbelievably subtle that, like a (good) thief in the night, it can slink by totally unnoticed. The reason it is so subtle is because the outcome of internal and external gratification is the same – happiness. The only way I can think of to demonstrate the difference is to give you a personal example:

Recently I made a new year’s resolution. My new year’s resolution was not to work so hard. This resolution came about as a result of my time working at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) – an office job. At PwC I would often work fairly long hours, day after day. After three and a half years I became tired of doing this. You might think “well that’s just being lazy”. However, there is far more to it than that. Working at PwC was never a dream of mine. I’ll pause here to make it clear I’m not having a dig at PwC in any way – I learnt a lot in this job and without it I wouldn’t be where I am today. 

While studying at University I didn’t know PwC existed. When I finished University I still barely knew PwC existed. Yet, somehow, four years down the road I found myself working long hours in a PwC office day after day. So how did that happen? It happened, I believe, because I thought other people knew what they were talking about when they told me things like “that is a really great company” and “you must be really smart to work there”. These things validated the job for me in some weird way. The job was, from other people’s perspectives, a good one and it made me happy to be pleasing others by working in it. Mmhmm, external gratification at its finest. However, as Yoda would say: “it did not, internal gratification, achieve”.

After a few years working the job I felt like something was missing. The people telling me it was a great company and a great job yada yada weren’t convincing me anymore. I thought I’d applied for the job because it was what I wanted, however upon reflection I do not believe that was the case. Instead, I was seeking out external gratification.

So, this brings me back to my new year’s resolution: not to work so hard. So what is that all about? Here’s a little secret for you: this resolution actually has nothing to do with working hard (I enjoy working hard). This new year’s resolution is all about not wanting to work hard for the wrong reasons. This new year’s resolution is all about switching my focus to the things I find internally gratifying (which is obviously not PwC at this time) and to work hard on these.

It all sounds a bit self-centred doesn’t it? It’s not. Following a path of internal gratification does not mean following a selfish route. In fact, it’s probably the opposite. For example, some of the things I find internally gratifying have nothing to do with me. These include: saying hello to, and smiling at, strangers; offering; being kind; writing; saying thank you (this is a big one); asking people about them, who they are, what they do, where they have been. These are simple things.

The difficulty with internal gratification is these types of things can often go unnoticed to the outside world, and therefore it is up to my inner self to identify them, and in turn, find happiness. This can be hard to do. It’s highly unlikely someone will tell us ‘good job’ for saying hello to, and smiling at, that stranger that we just walked past. But should that stop you from doing it? Hell no! Seriously, who doesn’t like to be smiled at?

You may also say it doesn’t matter whether you seek external gratification or internal gratification as both lead to happiness. While it is true that both can lead to happiness, at this point in time I believe there is one key difference between the two: external gratification is temporary, internal is not. Internal gratification is always there within you, as long as you take the time to find it. External gratification may not be – you could be unemployed, you could be feeling lonely, you could be homeless etc. In these moments people are less likely to tell you how awesome and successful and hot and fabulous you are…. But that doesn’t make you any less awesome, successful, hot and fabulous.

There is always going to be more out there, and this is why I believe following a path seeking out only external gratification will be unfulfilling. That is not to say external gratification is worthless, in fact I think it’s very important. It’s necessary to have both.

Let me put it this way… if happiness were a house, internal gratification would be the foundation, and external gratification would be everything else – the fixtures, furniture, fittings etc. Trying to build a house beginning with the fixtures, furniture and fittings before the foundation is a difficult ask… equally so, think about trying to live in a house without fixtures, furniture and fittings…

Here is a quick summary:

  • Your external gratification is sourced from the outside world (i.e. external to your being). Put simply, external gratification is happiness derived by you from others.
  • Your internal gratification is sourced by you from within. Put simply, internal gratification is happiness derived by you from you.

Perhaps this is all just a bunch of nonsense… I don’t know… I’m still (and always) learning.

 

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