Across the nation, tween girls plaster the cliché phrase, “live each day like it’s your last” on their Facebook walls.
Honestly, it’s an appealing thought. Eating my favorite artery-clogging food, ditching school, and acting without suffering the consequences would certainly lead to a fantastic, albeit last, day. Do that every day of every week all year, and you’ve got a serious problem. Soon, you’re unhealthy, uneducated, and too tired to outrun the consequences of your actions. The impatience that drove you to do every fun and reckless thing you could fit into your “last” 24 hours will eventually start to hurt your future.
Almost every major life accomplishment takes some form of foresight or sacrifice that is unnecessary if you’re going to be pushing daisies in the next day or two. Long-term happiness depends on looking to the future and trusting that the sacrifices you make today will pay off eventually. The ability to delay gratification has been linked to greater success in life.
In arguably the cutest experiment ever done in the name of science, preschool age children were placed in front of a marshmallow and given a difficult choice: eat the marshmallow now, or two in 20 minutes.
Watching them try to grapple with what is probably one of the hardest decisions in their small lives is entertaining, but even more valuable were the results from a follow up questionnaire. The children who were able to wait for the second marshmallow scored higher on their SATs, were more dependable, better adjusted, and had better impulse control, all traits that assisted them in their adult lives.
So what can four-year-olds teach us? That it’s better to wait for the metaphorical two marshmallows. If today was my last day, I sure wouldn’t study for that history test, but the chances are overwhelming that I’ll wake up tomorrow morning safe, sound, and dreading whatever obscure question Mrs. Eulau decides to throw at me. Maybe I won’t watch that episode of The Office for the nth time, but I’ll be able to look Mrs. Eulau in the eye when she hands back the test and know I’m starting on the path to an successful life.
After all, sweet things come to those who wait.