Would You Pass the Marshmallow Test? Success and Delayed Gratification
By Heath Shive
There are a lot of books and commercials and gurus telling us that we need to be "happy." They tell us how to be happy, how to quest for happiness, how to attain happiness, and what is wrong with us if we are not "happy." They seem to think that the purpose of life is to grab hold of happiness and God help you if you ever let go.
But what if happiness wasn't the point? What if happiness was only at the end of hard work - similar to how dessert was at the end of a meal?
And speaking of desserts, do you like marshmallows?
Scientists at Stanford University once used marshmallows to test the willpower of children. And then the children grew up. What did they find?
To the science!
The Marshmallow Test
In the 1960s, the psychologist Walter Mischel devised "the marshmallow test" to measure the willpower of children.
Mischel and other psychologists at Stanford University presented the children with a challenge: they could either eat a marshmallow now, or wait 15 minutes and eat 2 marshmallows.
Only a third of the kids were able to resist the temptation.
This in itself isn't all that weird.
But Mischel and the other psychologists found the same children years later and discovered something peculiar.
The kids who showed self-control grew up to be more accomplished both socially and academically. On the average, the kids had higher SAT scores, greater educational attainment, and a lower body mass index.
Is there a correlation between success and delayed gratification?
There was a book - a bestseller 20 years ago - entitled The Millionaire Next Door. The authors Thomas J. Stanley and William D. Danko found that the majority of millionaires in their study didn't become rich by being doctors, lawyers, and CEOs.
The majority of millionaires lived in modest houses and had ordinary careers. The millionaires "next door" became wealthy by a lifetime of frugality and savings. For a middle-class American, it would take 40 years of chronic investment to be a millionaire...but that's precisely how most millionaires acquired their wealth!
Not glamorous. Just delayed. Success by constant willpower and self-discipline.
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Mischel, Walter; Ebbesen, Ebbe B.; Raskoff Zeiss, Antonette (1972). "Cognitive and attentional mechanisms in delay of gratification". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 21 (2): 204–218.
Stanley, Thomas J. & William D. Danko. The Millionaire Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of America's Wealthy. Longstreet Press, 1996.
Hello! My name is Heath Shive, content manager at ScholarFox. I'll be the author of most of the blog posts. I'm a former geologist and currently a freelance writer. The world is complex and seemingly crazy. Good! Because when you love to learn, you'll never be bored.