The Marshmallow Test: Key to a Full Life — Morning Devotions - Hope 103.2

The Marshmallow Test: Key to a Full Life — Morning Devotions

We live in a world where we want more things - and usually now. By developing our sense of gratitude we can start to cure our restlessness.

Listen: Chris Witts presents Morning Devotions

By Chris WittsSaturday 30 Oct 2021Morning Devotions with Chris WittsDevotionsReading Time: 5 minutes

Have you ever heard of the marshmallow test? It was an interesting experiment devised back in the early 1970s by a group of psychologists at Stanford University.

They arranged for a group of four-year-old kids to come into a room, and lovely-looking marshmallows were put on the table. The test supervisor told them:

“Now, I have to go out for a while. And when I come back, if you have not eaten the marshmallow, I’ll give you two. But if you eat the marshmallow, it’s the only one you’re going to get.”

An interesting temptation for small children. So, the children developed some ways to pass the time – they sang, sat on their hands, and one little boy actually licked the table near his marshmallow thinking that perhaps the flavour had transferred to the wood. Some of the kids couldn’t wait for the supervisor to return, and ate their treat. Others waited patiently for him to come back into the room 15 minutes later.

The psychologists tracked these kids into adolescence and found something very interesting. It was quite amazing actually. Those who had grabbed their marshmallows and couldn’t wait grew up to be more hesitant and indecisive. Their poor impulse control was much more likely to lead to delinquency, substance abuse, and divorce.

They were easily upset by frustrating situations, and felt they never got a fair go in life. They were resentful at many aspects of life – prone to jealousy and envy; to overreact to irritations with a sharp temper, so provoking arguments and fights. And, after all those years, they still were unable to put off gratification. The others who were able to wait, grew up to be more socially competent, and could better handle stress. They were less likely to give up under pressure. This is a well-known and credible study from the US.

Are we prepared to wait?

I don’t think we can blame a four-year-old for wanting another sweet treat. I probably wouldn’t have waited either. But we live in a world where it’s very difficult to be patient and wait. We want more and more things – and usually we want them now. We’re not prepared to wait. When we’re happy and content with life, there’s a very natural sense of gratitude. But sometimes we need to work a little bit harder, remembering to take the time out to reflect on what we’ve got rather than what we haven’t. By generating this sense of appreciation, the mind becomes happier, healthier and the person becomes altogether more pleasant to be around.

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We seem to have this inner impulse to want more and more – to accumulate more things, thinking it will make us feel better or be a happier person. We live in a culture today that tells us there is always something more, something better.

What does it look like to have a full life?

A picture of a full life is described so well in the story of a Mexican fisherman, and an American businessman.

A fishing boat docked in a tiny Mexican village. An American tourist who was passing by complimented the Mexican fisherman on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took him to catch them. “Not very long,” answered the Mexican.

“Well, then, why didn’t you stay out longer and catch more?” asked the American. The Mexican explained that his small catch was sufficient to meet his needs and those of his family. The American asked him, “But what do you do with the rest of your time?”

He answered, “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, and take a siesta with my wife. In the evenings, I go into the village to see my friends, play the guitar, and sing a few songs. I have a full life.”

The American interrupted: “I have an MBA from Harvard and I can help you! You should start by fishing longer every day. You can then sell the extra fish you catch. With the extra revenue, you can buy a bigger boat. With the extra money the larger boat will bring, you can buy a second one and a third one and so on until you have an entire fleet of trawlers. Instead of selling your fish to a middle man, you can negotiate directly with the processing plants and maybe even open your own plant. You can then leave this little village and move to Mexico City, Los Angeles, or even New York City! From there you can direct your huge enterprise.”

“How long would that take?” asked the Mexican.

“Twenty, perhaps twenty-five years,” replied the American.

“And after that?”

“Afterwards? That’s when it gets really interesting,” answered the American, laughing. “When your business gets really big, you can start selling stocks and make millions!”

“Millions? Really? And after that?” replied the fisherman.

The American replied, “After that you’ll be able to retire, live in a tiny village near the coast, sleep late, play with your children, catch a few fish, take siestas with your wife, and spend your evenings drinking and enjoying your friends.”

The irony is clear: the Mexican already had all he needed. The American had bought into the trap of chasing millions he didn’t need.

True happiness is delighting in the Lord

Psalm 37:4 says in the Living Bible paraphrase, “Be delighted with the Lord. Then he will give you all your heart’s desires.”

What does this mean? Taking delight in the Lord means that our hearts truly find peace and fulfilment in Him. If we truly find satisfaction and worth in Christ, Scripture says He will give us the longings of our hearts.

More than we need anything else, we need to learn to delight in the Lord. Because if we really learn to delight in Him, then we will have what it takes to be truly happy no matter what happens with any of these other things. And the truth is, even if you have all of these other things, you will never be truly happy, until you learn to delight in the Lord.

The Bible has some very wise words in 1 Timothy 6: 6-8 (CEV):

“And religion does make your life rich, by making you content with what you have. We didn’t bring anything into this world, and we won’t take anything with us when we leave. So we should be satisfied just to have food and clothes.”

It’s a challenging statement.