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Applying Biblical Teachings to Modern Challenges: Ep 3-Resisting the Marshmallow: Ancient Wisdom for the Age of Instantaneity

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In an era where instant gratification is the order of the day, I took a curious dive into the concept of the Garden of Eden. A quick Google search on the term yielded an overwhelming 20,700,000 results in just 0.26 seconds. I haven't sifted through each entry but it's clear that not even in the most idyllic "Garden of Eden"-themed restaurants can you snap your fingers and have every whim catered to instantly. Yes, even in Eden, the principle of delayed gratification is in full swing.


Reflecting on the origins of this concept, we find ourselves in the narrative of creation itself. After planting a garden in Eden, God placed the first man amidst a bounty of trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food (Genesis 2:8–9). This paradise, the height of the newly minted world, came with a singular caveat — delayed gratification. God's command was clear: "Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat, but of the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat" (Genesis 2:16–17).



This stipulation always puzzled me. Why introduce a restriction to such a paradise? Could it be that having everything you desire at your fingertips is not the key to living a fulfilling life? The truth dawned on me: Without mastering delayed gratification, one could have everything and yet live in a state of dissatisfaction.


But how relevant is this ancient wisdom to today's fast-paced, digital world? The answer might lie in the famous marshmallow test conducted by psychologist Walter Mischel at Stanford University in the late 1960s and early 1970s. 


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The Stanford marshmallow experiment was designed to measure how well children could delay immediate gratification for the sake of a greater future pleasure and if that ability predicted future success in life.


The psychologist's offer to the young subjects was straightforward: resist the temptation of a single marshmallow for thirty minutes and be rewarded with two.


Fast forward a decade, and the researchers unearthed striking correlations. The children who demonstrated the fortitude to delay gratification excelled academically in their teenage years. Advancing into adulthood, they soared to higher achievements, securing prestigious positions and commanding higher earnings. In contrast, the early indulgers seemed to navigate a less illustrious path, marked by average outcomes in both their personal and professional lives.


The validity of the test has been questioned. Attempts at reproducing the experiment point to the need to consider environmental factors. Yet despite its limitations, we can still glean insights into the mechanics of self-control.


Time has tested the theories behind the test’s conclusions, but the essence of those early conclusions resonates more loudly than ever. As a teacher for over forty years, I have observed that teenagers who have experienced unconditional love from their parents have good self-worth and are more resistant to the appeal of instant gratification over long-term gain. In an age where immediate satisfaction is often the default, the virtue of patience emerges as a critical asset. It's a reminder that the discipline practised today can pave the way for tomorrow's achievements.


And for those pondering whether it's too late to cultivate this virtue, fear not. Adam lived for 930 years, a long and fruitful life after he left Eden, a life in which he successfully passed many tests. Self-control operates like a muscle: it can also be strengthened through training and practice.  Start small by practising delayed gratification for shorter periods of time with the goal of long-term growth. Modern psychology offers a suite of techniques designed to bolster our capacity for self-control.


So, as we forge our paths in this fast-paced era, let's not forget: The true measure of success may well hinge on our ability to wait a little longer for that second marshmallow. After all, the seeds of tomorrow's triumphs are sown in the soil of today's discipline. Delayed gratification isn't just a testament to patience; it's the foundation upon which legacies of resilience, achievement, and lasting success are built.


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This publication is kindly sponsored by:

Tony & Robin Mitchell

In loving memory of their parents:

Schaindel bat Yitzchak ע"ה

Yeshayahu ben Chaim ע"ה

Avraham Fischel ben Yosef ע"ה

Chana Raizl bat Azriel HaKohen ע"ה

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