marshmallow-test

“Through delayed fulfillment, good desires grow stronger.”
Gregory the Great

Almost fifty years ago the famous marshmallow experiment suggested the importance of being able to wait.

There are many troubling aspects of the encroachment of today’s technologies in our daily life. Perhaps one of the more subtle is that we grow accustomed to immediate gratification. And so we become more like the children who are unable or unwilling to wait. For anything.

We expect a reply to our email right away; we expect the answer to our question right away; we expect our package to be delivered right away.

The issue here can confuse us: What could be wrong with getting a good thing right away? If we can get it sooner than later, isn’t that better?

In this, as in other cases, perhaps what would have seemed the position of an old, ornery coot turns out to be true. It’s often better to have to wait.

Seeds do not sprout, much less give fruit, for some length of time. And the sower learns to cultivate; and to ponder; and to wait.

Waiting can give the opportunity better to see things for what they are; it also occasions growth in self-restraint, and patience. Many of the most important things in life are things that we must receive. Waiting can, indeed should, dispose us to receive well.

This will require having a different mindset, a mindset that itself needs practice, and cultivation.

Gregory the Great (c. 540-604 A.D.) set aside the wealth of his Roman family to pursue the monastic life. Called to a life of action as a papal legate, he was later elected pope, in which office he became known as a reformer.

Image: In an experiment made famous at Stanford in the 60’s and 70’s children are presented with a marshmallow and then told they will be given another one if they are willing to delay eating the first for some set length of time. Later studies correlate the willingness to wait and various measures of ‘success’ in life. This image is from a more recent iteration of this experiment.

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