A famous experiment was done in the 1960’s by scientists at Stanford who wanted to test the willpower of a group of 4-yr-olds. The kids were brought into a room & presented with a selection of treats, including marshmallows. They were offered a deal: They could eat one marshmallow right away, or, if they waited a few minutes, they could have two marshmallows. Then the researchers left the room. Some kids gave in to temptation & ate the marshmallow as soon as the adult left. About 30% managed to ignore their urges, & doubled their treats when the researcher came back 15 minutes later. Scientists, who were watching everything from behind a 2-way mirror, kept careful track of which kids had enough self-control to earn the second marshmallow.
Years later, they tracked down many of the study’s participants. By now, they were in high school. The researchers asked about their grades & SAT scores, their ability to maintain friendships, & their capacity to “cope with important problems.” They discovered that the 4-yr-olds who could delay gratification the longest ended up with the best grades & with SAT scores 210 points higher, on average, than everyone else. They were also more popular & fewer did drugs. If you knew how to avoid the temptation of a marshmallow as a preschooler, it seemed, you also knew how to get yourself to class on time & finish your homework once you got older, as well as how to make friends & resist peer pressure. It was as if the marshmallow-ignoring kids had self-regulatory skills that gave them an advantage throughout their lives.
Maybe Jesus knew what he was talking about when he told his followers to deny themselves.