Children taking the marshmallow test is one of my very favourite things to watch on Youtube.
The premise, if you’re not familiar with it, is simple: “Hey, kid. Here’s a marshmallow. I’m going to leave the room. If that marshmallow is still there when I come back, you get another one.”
Adorable hilarity ensues.
Apparently, the studies done into the Marshmallow Experiment proved a whole raft of benefits for those who were able to delay gratification. Fortunately for those of us who struggle to resist or delay temptation for 10 minutes or more, the results are in doubt since they’ve never been able to fully replicate the results of the test.
But it did make me think of what I would have done if they’d done that experiment on me as a kid.
Delayed Gratification Was My Bag
When I was little, the best thing about parties were the party bag you got at the end. In that bag, there was the traditional slice of cake, maybe some trinkety toys or activity books…and then, the good stuff.
The harried mother of the celebrant had clearly grabbed a handful from some industrial sized tub in a hurry, caring neither about our future blood sugar levels or the state of the relationship we had our dentist (non-existent, thanks for asking). So there were usually a lot of sweets per bag.
And I remember, I always did the same thing – I ‘saved’ them. I squirrelled them away in some location in my room (the cupboard) to wait for some opportune time to enjoy it.
There were 4 ways this would play out. The two things that would normally happen were:
1) I’d forget about it or the location and spend a frustrating hour or two searching for the lost goody bag or
2) my little sister (who had instantly gobbled hers up) would find mine and then eat it because, “You weren’t going to eat it anyways.” (LIES).
Actually, 2) was probably the reason for 1) in most cases.
There was a third scenario where the stars would align, I’d remember where the bag was, get to it before my snaffling sis, and get to enjoy a Opal fruit or Drumstick in relative peace and serenity. This was super rare.
In the fourth, most devastating scenario, it was high summer and the sweets would melt into a sticky, sweet, unedible mess.
And that’s kind of where I think I used to be with the marshmallow test. Sure, I’d walk away with two marshmallows and a burning feeling of pride and having Done The Right Thing by depriving myself momentarily.
But I know for a fact I’d have been deprived of those marshmallows long term. Dropped, stolen, lost – I wouldn’t have eaten them immediately and thus would have lost all opportunity to enjoy them at all.
4 out 5 times, I didn’t get to enjoy those treats. I waited, not knowing what I was waiting for, until it was too late. I had the delayed part down to a well mastered art – it was the ‘gratification’ part I struggled with.
I think I still had this overly delayed gratification mindset for a long time with lots of things – special notebooks that yellowed and stuck together over time; stickers that eventually lost their stick; products that curdled up and died still sealed.
Even money – at one time, I found myself not really knowing how to enjoy the money I made for fear it would disappear, not realising it was disppearing anyway – through depreciation, sudden costs and tax or the good old dropping a fiver out of my pocket every now and then. I thought about opening a pension while acknowledging I may never retire to withdraw from it.
Which begs the question – what’s the point of delaying financial gratification if I never get to enjoy it?
What I’m Saving For
I don’t mean it in a nihilistic way – I genuinely have started asking myself this question – “If you’re saving this money, what are you saving this for?” Previously, I saved money because it was The Right and Sensible Thing to Do but with little inkling of what I wanted to use it on.
But this tipped into over-frugality and I started to teeter, peering into the chasm of Being Damn Cheap for No Good Reason.
Which isn’t sensible at all. Plus, I has the weird habit of happily spending money on other people yet being super reluctant to do the same for myself. Which from the outside sounds really weird, but is a very strong tendency with my personality (and personality type, apparently).
By being financially responsible with what I have, it means others don’t have to worry (as much) about me or fish me out of a tight spot, so I can still claim it’s altruistic!
Now, when I ask myself “What am I currently saving for?” I have answers.
A dream holiday with my family….
Giving me options and time for when/if I decide to look for a different job….
A study course I’m looking at that’s taken my interest…
A cushion for when more medical issues inevitably hit the fan…
The chance to take up anything new and interesting that comes up in a few years without stressing.
As an adult, I don’t really eat (as many) sweets like I used to. So rather than stockpiling those marshmallows, I know from my behaviour now that I’d put the other one in a baggy and save it for someone I know who loves marshmallows.
But I would make sure I got to enjoy the outcomes of my hard work too. Because really, I think that’s a big reason for me to save too – and to improve my chances of enjoying my supply – of sweets or money – from 20% to more like 80%.
What are you saving for? Is it something that comes easily or is more tricky for you?
Image Credit: Arminas Raudys @ Pexels.com
I recently read that there was some revised thinking around that test. Kids who came from a less economically secure background had a hard time passing the test- because life had taught them to get something in front of them and not trust in delayed gratification! Sad but makes me wonder what other wisdom we need to question.
I don’t know that I would have passed because I was a sugar fiend 🙂
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Yes! The Guardian article I linked mentioned there was adjustments made for backgrounds and that basically nearly nullified the results. It made me wonder if the original creator of the experiement had some class/social prejudices that influenced his findings.