The Sunday Times Magazine: No need to self-moderate. Indulge, indulge, indulge

01_05_GLASS_G24_1206132kHalfway through January and I’m still on my post-Christmas hangover. More than most months, January has a theme. While Februhairy, Parched March, Armpits for August, Steptember, Stoptober and Movember are still fighting for mass recognition, we’re already all too familiar with #DryJan.

New Year, New You. January is a month for starving and being broke, after feeling that in December we did too much of everything. Too much booze. Too much food. Spending too much cash. Cramming mulled wine between inappropriate snogs and spending entire days binge-watching Peep Show in bed, while mainlining selection boxes. This is why December is the best!

But all bingeing is followed by a period of mourning, the modern existential crisis. Some of this will be physical, brought on by the sugar-high melting, the hangover seeping, the moment you realise there are no series left on Netflix you haven’t binge watched, or doing something really stupid like checking your bank balance.

And while this physical downer can be managed, what is harder to avoid are the feelings of guilt. We feel bad after bingeing because we live in a society that links lack of impulse control with moral failure. Patience is a virtue, we keep being told. Bingeing is bad. Delayed gratification — supposedly — good.

What we don’t know from the marshmallow test is whether kids who scoffed the first marshmallow grew up to be the rebels, artists and freethinkers

In 2014, you might remember everyone raving about a book called The Marshmallow Test, which extolled the merits of waiting for what we want. The book was inspired by an experiment at Stanford University in which young children were offered a marshmallow they could eat immediately, or wait 15 minutes and receive two. The book claimed that, years later, follow-up studies showed that those who waited patiently for their second fluffy treat grew into more competent adolescents who got higher academic results. The lesson: people who can control their desires have greater success in accomplishing long-term goals.


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