Richard Chow: Eat The Marshmallow

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Conventional wisdom has it that delaying gratification is a marker of maturity and self-control. Richard Chow isn’t so sure.

My Parkinson’s diagnosis over six years ago was the beginning of the end. Or so I was told. “Richard, it’s like you’re tied to the train tracks,” a friend with Parkinson’s told me. “You just don’t know when the train is going to hit you.”

Well, a funny thing happened on the way to my demise. I seem to be thriving, health challenges and all.

What explains this?

Oddly, marshmallows – and a renewed capacity for instant gratification.

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The two are forever linked in a behavioral study at Stanford University some 50 years ago. In the study, children were given a choice: enjoy one marshmallow immediately or wait 15 minutes and be rewarded with two marshmallows.

Not eating the marshmallow right away was somehow connected to future success and greater happiness. The opposite was true for those who sought instant gratification.

Well into middle age, contending with illness, I began pondering whether delayed gratification should remain a governing philosophy for me. Maybe, it was overrated.

Was it finally time to eat the metaphorical marshmallow?

A month later, I hosted my first marshmallow dinner, inviting 20 close friends. We sat around one table, the candles flickering, engaged in conversation. It was evident that we had left our worries outside the room. As the laughter became contagious, time seemed to stand still. If this was what instant gratification was all about, I decided, then give me more marshmallows. In fact, give me constant gratification.

Thus was born the Marshmallow Movement – my personal celebration of conscious instant gratification, driven equally by gratitude, love and being present.

When the pandemic came, my annual dinner took a hiatus. Of course, my Parkinson’s did not.

Still, my marshmallow philosophy organized my approach to life. I took frequent walks in the Presidio, gathered outdoors with friends and cooked dinners with my family. Pandemic or not, I was determined to no longer delay the things I wanted to do.

And, in the most challenging times, this has made all the difference. I have not fallen into a malaise. Rather, in my own way, I have thrived.

All around us are opportunities to create marshmallow moments.

Seek them. Enjoy them. If not now, when?

With a Perspective, I’m Richard Chow.

Richard Chow is a distinguished career fellow at Stanford. He lives with his wife and two daughters in the Bay Area.