In the 1960s, a Stanford professor named Walter Mischel conducted an experiment testing hundreds of children — most of them around the ages of 4 and 5 years old.
The experiment began by bringing each child into a private room, sitting them down in a chair, and placing a marshmallow on the table in front of them.
At this point, the researcher offered a deal to the child.
The researcher told the child that he was going to leave the room and that if the child did not eat the marshmallow while he was away, then they would be rewarded with a second marshmallow. However, if the child decided to eat the first one before the researcher came back, then they would not get a second marshmallow.
So, the choice was simple: one treat right now or two treats later.
The researcher left the room for 15 minutes.
As you can imagine, the footage of the children waiting alone in the room was rather entertaining. Some kids jumped up and ate the first marshmallow as soon as the researcher closed the door. Others wiggled and bounced and scooted in their chairs as they tried to restrain themselves, but eventually gave in to temptation a few minutes later. And finally, a few of the children did manage to wait the entire time.
This popular study became known as The Marshmallow Experiment, but it wasn’t the treat that made it famous. The interesting part came years later.
How did they end up?
As the years rolled on and the children grew up, the researchers conducted follow up studies and tracked each child’s progress in a number of areas. What they found was surprising.
The children who were willing to delay gratification and waited to receive the second marshmallow ended up having better exam results, lower levels of substance abuse, lower likelihood of obesity, better responses to stress, better social skills as reported by their parents, and generally better scores in a range of other life measures.
The researchers followed each child for more than 40 years and over and over again, the group who waited patiently for the second marshmallow succeed in whatever capacity they were measuring. In other words, this series of experiments proved that the ability to delay gratification was critical for success in life. It’s the same for money.
Success with Money
All the money success stories I’ve come across in my time as a financial planner all have the same trait of being able to think forward and delay gratification. They make sure they look after their future selves.
This willingness and self-control has served Serenity client families extremely well. Regular saving and investing over time creates wealth. This has led to freedom, flexibility, and control over their time. This is the unseen return on wealth that we don’t tend to measure like we do investment returns. The intangible benefits are far more valuable and more capable of increasing your happiness.
So, for those in their saving stage of life seeking to accumulate wealth, you know what to do. I am not saying it is easy, but more people can, and should, save their money. For more guidance on this, please refer to my previous article here about “What every young person should know about money”.
For those who have benefitted from delayed gratification and are now enjoying the benefits, you have done the heavy lifting in life. The focus is on having enough marshmallows to see you through.