Have you heard of the Stanford marshmallow experiment? It was a study on delayed versus instant gratification. In this study, children were offered a choice between one marshmallow, that they could eat as an immediate reward, or if they waited a short period of time without eating the marshmallow they would be given a second one. The children who patiently held on to the first one enjoyed the delayed gratification of eating two marshmallows. It was an interesting observation of human behavior.
The speed of our world puts our lives on a mind-swirling treadmill. We have been trained to move fast, accomplish now and not sit still or wait for anything. We want and expect instant gratification.
We run from one event to the next, one occasion to the next and one obligation to the next.
Our kids are entrenched in going to school, participating in sports and other activities. Parents are busy keeping them occupied and maintaining their children’s schedules.
Add that to the obligations of our careers, taking care of our home and families and the expectation of volunteering. Then there are the extra things in life like trying to have fun or take care of ourselves. This spins the hamster wheel of speed and commitment faster.
This speeding through life has taught us to expect everything instantly. We send a text and then stare at our phones. We expect a response in two seconds. When we send an email if it hasn’t been answered in an hour, we become impatient. What’s wrong? Aren’t others just sitting at their computer waiting to answer us?
We are so busy that we rush through planning holidays, weddings and other events without enjoying the process. In the stress of hurried preparation, we miss the excitement and thrill of anticipation.
Then we have this thing called FOMO - fear of missing out - because we want to be everywhere doing everything with everyone all at the same time.
This speed and fear have taught us to want and expect instant gratification. It has taught us to give instant gratification. When we receive a text we stop everything to answer because that’s the way the world works. We want our food fast, our bank deposits to be instant, our communication immediate and our lives seamless.
Do you remember two short years ago when we all sheltered in place? Life seemed to slow to a standstill. At the time I believed the universe was teaching us lessons. Forcing us to slow down. Forcing us to be grateful for the moment we were in. Forcing us to learn patience and enjoy the process instead of jumping from one outcome to the next. It was an unusually quiet time.
Today I drove through traffic dodging cars controlled by intense drivers rushing to their destinations. I heard texts chime on my phone and scanned the list of emails that were delivered within the last hour. I looked at my calendar filled with appointments and obligations. The speed has returned. The fear of missing out has returned. The rush to the finish line has returned.
I will admit that as a child if I was given a marshmallow, I would have probably eaten it and not waited for the second one. Maybe I still would. But as I write this today, I believe we need to revisit the lessons we didn’t learn well enough during the quiet time.
We need to recognize that a leisurely phone call is better than a hasty text. We need to understand that very few things are so important that they should be allowed to interrupt the natural flow of our lives.
We need to appreciate that an event is over in a blink and the preparation and anticipation can be more powerful and more exciting than the event itself.
We need to slow down. The need for instant gratification has taken away the sweet luxury of enjoying life. We need to put as much joy and love into relishing the process as we do whatever the event or the experience is – even if it is just eating a marshmallow.
Pennies Life Lesson:
Lessons can be forgotten quickly. Allow what you learn to seep into the very being of who you are and how you live. If you don’t, you will be taught the lesson again.
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