THE MARSHMALLOW CONUNDRUM

Who knew marshmallows could be so scary??

My favorite marketer blogger let me down today.

They discussed why some people are wealthy. It’s because they made a decision to purchase stock in a new company 20 years ago, instead of spending the money on eating out at a restaurant. As in, wisdom and foresight vs. random self-indulgence. Long-term value over short-term amusement.

They compared to to getting a grilled cheese sandwich today, or being able to get two grilled cheese sandwiches next week. As if the people who invested in Google in 2004 are smarter/better than the people who chose to go out to dinner instead. Twenty years later, the dinner is forgotten, but the shares are worth thousands of dollars.

I get the point (I think.) It takes time for money to grow, and not much time at all to spend it on worthless/useless/petty things instead. The people who are willing to wait, gain more.

Or is it?

It sounds like the Stanford Marshmallow Experiment in the 1970’s, when 32 children were given a marshmallow, but told they would get TWO marshmallows if they didn’t eat the first one. The study declared that the children who could wait, were more successful in life, their SAT scores were higher, etc. Repeated studies seemed to support the power of delayed gratification.

This is the simplified version, of course, but the one we’re most familiar with: People who have self-discipline do better in life.

Until newer studies found the major flaw in these results:

Children of “lower” social class, who were more vulnerable to food insecurity, whose families were struggling, were the ones who “couldn’t” wait for that second marshmallow.

Not because they aren’t as smart, not because they had no self-discipline, or because they were less patient.

It was because they had already learned to grab what was available when it was offered. Because that second “reward” might NEVER come.

I never truly believed in the original findings. Something just felt wrong. It felt more like an issue of trust in the people running the experiment than the ability to “go without”. In fact, these kids that “failed” were probably already “going without”. Without the same support, advantages, opportunities that wealthier families offer.

And about stock options vs. a dinner out….

Yeah, we might forget the dinner out, twenty years later. It might be a better choice to invest in our future.

And yet….

What if that dinner is the first date with a person who became our partner? Or the one where our partner asked us to marry them?

What if that dinner was a celebration? A birthday, a milestone reached, a graduation?

What if it was the last time we were able to spend time with a loved one or a dear friend?

What if it was the dinner where you had a huge fight, and realized that was NOT the person you wanted to be with for the rest of your life? A decision you would never regret?

The article probably has a valid point, and maybe it just landed wrong for me today. We’ve all made poor financial decisions we wish we could do over.

And yet…

Investing money has always been a gamble. Some people make good investment decisions, yes. But a lot of those decisions aren’t. We never really know which ones will pay off, and anyone who says otherwise is either very very lucky in theirs, or they’re full of bullshit.

Sorry, I don’t know where I’m going here. Except even gentle criticism about people not making smart decisions about the future drives me crazy. I still remember a coworker 40 years ago. She and her parter had the perfect investment/retirement plan in place with her husband.

But her husband died suddenly way, way before they got there. And she had to keep working long past her retirement years to support herself.

Her greatest regret? That they had put off all their travels and good times, so they would have a rich, perfect retirement.

And then they never had the chance to enjoy it, together.

My own favorite “predicting the future” story is the year where the price of oil skyrocketed (our heating fuel in New Hampshire), and we had to decide whether to prebuy at the current prices, or hope that they would fall before winter. My husband said, “If only I knew what the price of oil was going to be in six months!” And I said, “You and ten billion other people.”

Yes, it’s good to be frugal, and set aside money. Yes, it’s good to have hope in our hearts that things will work out, that everything will be okay, that we will always be safe, that we have everything under control. It’s good to wait, and get that second marshmallow as a reward.

But it’s bad to blame people who have less, who strugle more, who battle discrimination, ridicule, distrust, disgust, and who are never seen for anything more than their gender, skin color, nationality, religion choices.

Only when ALL people have money to invest, when ALL people don’t have to worry about where the next paycheck will come from, when ALL people can have an income, health care, respect, love, when ALL people can feel safe and cared for….

Then, and only then, will I take that investment advice seriously.

Er….pass me that marshmallow, please?

 

 

 

 

Author: Luann Udell

I find it just as important to write about my art as to make it. I am fascinated by stories. You can tell when people are speaking their truth--their eyes light up, their voices become strong, their entire body posture becomes powerful and upright. I love it when people get to this place in their work, their relationships, their art. As I work from this powerful place in MY heart, I share this process with others--so they have a strong place to stand, too. Because the world needs our beautiful art. All of it we can make, as fast as we can! Whether it's a bowl, a painting, a song, a garden, a story, if it makes our world a better place, we need to do everything in our power to get it out there.

24 thoughts on “THE MARSHMALLOW CONUNDRUM”

    1. Someone suggested I reach out to that blogger, that sometimes they will respond. So I did, and they did! They say that my points were not what they intended at all, and I accept that. BUT that is what it read as, and many people felt the same way. So…hidden truth? Or misplaced indignation? I dunno. I appreciate the folks that my post resonated with, I love their stories, and right or wrong, I still believe my framing is a good one. Glad you liked it, and thank you for letting me know! ❤ ❤ ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  1. A number of years ago our country had a huge financial market crash. Prior to that crash my husband had an expensive heart incident, one of the insurance companies that pays me for working with their clients cut our pay by 30%, and we had house fixits to pay for. I cashed out our retirement, which was an extremely fortuitous event, since it would have taken a big hit. I was able to pay down a bunch of debts and not drown in that debt. I came to the realization, more like a childhood memory, of thinking I would not be a person that ‘retired’ from work. As a younger person I just never ‘got’ the point of retirement. All through my adult years I have enjoyed my life and the different jobs I have had…why would I retire from doing what I love to do! And yes, I have traveled, seen lots of things, been to lots of countries and enjoyed those experiences. I have no regrets enjoying being home, working, gardening, making pretty jewelry, and occasionally meeting up with friends. It’s all Good!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I love that your choices reflected your values, your incredibly scary situation, and your own inner happiness. And looking for/finding the ‘good’ is a good life strategy for happiness. Not as in, ‘there is no bad’, but accepting what we can’t control and framing it in a way that helps us find our way through to the other side. Good on you! And good on you for sharing your own powerful story here, too!

      Like

  2. I’ve been receiving your emails for quite some time….but I don’t read them. And today, on the day, when you wondered ‘where you were going with this’ piece…it was made clear, WHY I haven’t unsubscribed. I completely agree and appreciate what you’ve shared today. How you’re feeling about this, and your soul’s push back on asserted ways of seeing and interpreting behavior, that have no idea of all that’s involved in what’s being observed….lovu, and your Heart. Keep them pure, creative and prospering…oh, and by the way…the ‘Market’ (like ‘credit) is bullshit…remember when they used to ask, “Oh do you play the stock market?’ Well that’s because it IS REALLY JUST A GAME. A game that was made up, by people with nothing more substantial to do with their intelligence, that might be an asset to the Wholeness, we all are a part of….It’s sad, that it’s taken such a place of priority in human existence, culture and our lives. After all….the bottom line is really, just about how do we share, and exchange, resources…..why does exploitation and PROFIT, have to be a part of the answer to that question?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I was on the road when I saw your comment, and couldn’t wait to get home to acknowledge it! Thank you for being a loyal subscriber, I truly appreciate it, and for your lovely comment about why you subscribe. I’m glad this resonated with you, today, which is exactly a) why I write, and make my art, and b) why finding ways to share it with others is at the heart of all our making.

      Like

      1. OH, and YES, when we turn activities/goals that are part of our lives into ‘games’, it becomes scary. People playing games with the stock market, investments, flipping houses/investing in AirBnBs (which can seriously impact the availability of affordable housing), making HUGE profits from insulin (WHY????) and fake blood testing, can DESTROY the lives of people who don’t have the advantage of “extreme wealth”–or even a livable income. Wish there were safer ‘games’ for these people to play…

        Like

  3. I SO heartily agree with you!! Celebrating those special moments creates lasting memories. Investing in the volatile stock market would just make me nervous. My husband and I retired early.Yes I know we would have been able to do more if we had waited. but we did have many good times to share before he died. Now I can look back on those memories and truly say I have no regrets. More money would not make me happier at this point.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am SO GLAD your decision worked out for you! You’ve reminded me to take a moment, too, and consider what we have NOW. Thank you for reaching out and sharing your story, it’s a powerful one.

      Like

  4. Comment would not work for me. Maybe because we are camping…but I enjoyed your article. I like the way you think and write. You are do relatable. Thanks!

    Sent from my iPad

    >

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Good morning Luann! I kept this email of yours because I wanted to ponder and answer you.

    I was married to a difficult (PTSD) older man. He died from lung cancer and I miss him, but not the abuse. When he was gone I picked up the pieces and met another very sweet man who wasn’t abusive. He had lost his wife so we were both widowed. We had a lot in common and became a couple. We had many pieces, “stuff” to deal with; cleaning his house out to rent it, trading vehicles, building an addition and a shed…(long story), and other “stuff”. We enjoyed working hard together on our projects and finally got to where we were really looking forward to the next summer in our lives when we could play, have fun, take a few little trips to fish on the river with our canoe, and ATV some trails…just enjoy and rest finally. It’s not that we didn’t take some time to do fun things, but our focus was on all the practical work that needed to be done. We would spend a day installing insulation or something instead of hitting the river or trails. Then, the spring before our dream-summer of fun, when most projects were done, he was diagnosed with lung cancer. It meant the painful removal of one lung, chemo, and other horrible treatments that continued without much relief. Of course that stopped our wonderful plans cold. He was in too much pain. In two years he was gone after an agonizing couple years of treatments that failed. We never put our canoe in the water that summer…or ever again.

    That is why your message is so true. We cannot save unless we have enough to begin with…I know that very well from the experience of barely scraping by for most of my life. I always get irritated with the “tips to save on taxes” because they inevitably require money to invest somehow. If you ain’t got it you can’t save it…duh. And having fun while you are alive is a lesson I ought to have learned. Saving is good…if you have some”extra” to save, and I believe it is necessary to make wise choices and pay your bills. As you indicate, we can’t always know what is wise…like, when should I fill that oil tank this year??? Do I wait? Do it now?

    Anyhow, I wanted you to know that I appreciate seeing that I am not the only one who looks deeper and doesn’t take every meme or story at face value. It’s surprising how many memes are misleading…especially so called “spiritual” ones. I see people reflexively agreeing with them and I am the one who is apt to say “WHOA! Wait a minute! Not so fast!”. Yes, we need to call these things out when we can. Or not…depends on my day if I do or if I don’t! LOL

    Still love seeing your writing, Carla in Maine

    Like

    1. Carla, I am so sorry you’ve suffered so much loss, and am in awe of you for the clarity and wisdom you’ve acquired because of it. Thank you for sharing your story, your insights, and YOUR truth. Too often, we look for the results/explanations that we WANT to find, rather than go deeper to discover what those studies are REALLY measuring. Fortunately, as science moves forward, we get to see those assumptions, adjusted, corrected, or even overridden. And each step allows us to understand ourselves, and others, and humanity in general, in a more inclusive, compassionate way. I’m glad you enjoyed this article, and thank you for letting me know!

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: