When I was a kid, my favorite breakfast cereal was Lucky Charms, a blend of sugar-coated oats, marshmallows, and Irish stereotypes.
The cereal’s corporate mascot is a leprechaun named Lucky. In 1980s TV commercials, cartoon children were always in pursuit of the small, green-suited figure so that they might capture his “magically delicious” marshmallow charms: pink hearts, yellow moons, orange stars, green clovers, and blue diamonds. In intervening years, the cereal’s maker, General Mills, has added new charms, taken away others, and changed the colors.
I can’t recall whether the animated kids were after Lucky Charms simply to gorge on sugary goodness or to gain magical powers such as the ability to make their bodies stop producing insulin.
At the time, children’s cereal advertising relied to a remarkable degree on chase scenes. There was a cop perpetually on the tail of a burglar trying to steal Cookie Crisp, Toucan Sam following his nose in search of Froot Loops, and, of course, the Trix rabbit, whose efforts to eat that cereal were invariably stymied by anthropocentric brats who would snatch away the bunny’s happiness just when it was in reach and then cruelly chant, “Silly rabbit, Trix are for kids!”
Yeah, well, the joke’s on you because Trix is made up of nasty-tasting, chemically flavored fruity bits formed into jagged balls designed to shred the roof of your mouth.
That’s what you get for not sharing.
My method of eating a bowl of Lucky Charms was to consume all the oat chunks first—a step that required precision-scooping with my spoon—so that I could then enjoy several bites of just milk and marshmallows.
My husband, Frank, says that sounds like the behavior of a psychopath.
But couldn’t it also be an example of delaying gratification in order to increase the later reward? And the ability to do that, according to a famous social-science study conducted at Stanford in the 1960s, is supposed to indicate that a child will become a successful adult.
And the reward used in that experiment? MARSHMALLOWS.
Now to make my argument irrefutable all I have to do is become a successful adult.
I gave up eating breakfast cereal on a regular basis at some point in my twenties, when I was persuaded that it’s oversweetened, overprocessed, carbo-loaded death in a box.
Frank occasionally brings cereal home from the grocery store, though. As a child, he preferred Cocoa Pebbles and Apple Jacks. But, to paraphrase the Apostle Paul, when Frank became a man he put away childish things and switched to Honey Bunches of Oats with Almonds.
I’ll have a bowl now and then. I like the stuff. It’s sweet (owing less to honey than corn syrup, I’d say) and has a good crunch. According to the nutrition label, each cup contains 15% of your daily recommended sugar allowance—not great, true, but less than the 30% contained in a cup of Lucky Charms.
Of course, I probably derived more pleasure from the latter, but that’s just another example of how the best parts of life are crowded toward the beginning. As you get older, you have to opt for breakfast foods with smaller amounts of things like sugar and happiness and larger amounts of things like fiber and raisins.
I guarantee that those kids who aced the marshmallow test looked up from their tasteless muesli one morning after growing up to become successful adults and thought, I delayed gratification for THIS?