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Bringing back delayed gratification

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Posted: Wednesday, January 12, 2011 2:00 pm

It's still all about me. They year 2011 promises no easing of the entitlement culture. Most Americans have been raised on it since the baby boomers launched self indulgence in the '60s with the help of marijuana and free love. It's wrapped into our mores; is our addiction. Those same flower children who changed America are now beginning to claim their Social Security checks, leaving the mess behind for someone else.

What a journey it has been: An unprecedented abundance, built on the sacrifices and genius of the boomers' parents, feeding the trend of "enjoy it now, pay later." We've basked in amazing comfort items, tech gizmos and plastic money with lots of credit. And, now, "later" is here; equity has been consumed, morals have evaporated, and we're deep into our seed corn.

Without a reversal, our current downturn will become an avalanche with deadlier consequences. Too bad the flower children didn't know or care about deferred gratification, which is notoriously kind. Restraint is known to hold vital promise. Natural law makes it so.

Interestingly, it was in those same '60s that Stanford social scientists developed a clever research tool, which became known as "The Marshmallow Test." The story of its outcome resurfaced recently, in various venues, and carries profound lessons for today.

The test apparently can identify very early in a person's life who will succeed in the adult world. It goes like this: Young children are given a marshmallow and told if they will wait to eat it while the teacher is out of the room, they will get a second marshmallow when the teacher returns. In the initial research the children were tracked for years. Those who waited were far more successful adults than those who succumbed. Not only did they thrive financially; they also did much better in relationships.

Tragically, that generation missed the lessons of the marshmallow test. An entire world has been impacted by the "having it now" rebellion of the '60s. Today, we see the demise of marriage and the fact that childbirth out of the protections of wedlock means nothing other than state support. Society is embracing weed and other stimulants as household essentials, and national and personal debt is robbing citizens of basic freedoms. The slippery slope is merciless.

Next time you're at the grocery store, buy a bag of marshmallows and use the test for a teaching moment with your children. Maybe they'll get the idea. Maybe it'll bless their destinies.

The impact of one, deadly, self indulgent decade is staggering. Can we initiate a U-turn? Are there potential leaders among us who, as visionaries, recognize the value of deferred gratification? As they emerge, can we stand with them and support their courage?

Meanwhile, families and local neighborhoods need not defer to the national trend. Here in the East Valley we can set our own, exemplary course. Get out of debt. If need be, cut back on all but necessities, wait to upgrade; encourage lifestyles embedded in values, and eat wisely. In other words, add deferred gratification to our New Year's resolutions. Our grandchildren, and the boomer's grandchildren, depend on our self discipline.

Linda Turley-Hansen is a syndicated columnist and former veteran Phoenix television news anchorwoman who lives in the East Valley. Her column appears monthly. She can be reached by e-mail at

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