Settling down

The marshmallow game of life

Posted by Benjamin Gravesteijn on Friday, October 11, 2019


Something else, something new. In conversations with friends, lately, something interesting has popped up. It started as an idea that seemed fresh. But the longer we talked it over, the more it seems like more of a thought process that started long ago, but has already been systematized in me. It involves the process of growing up, but applied to adolescent life: settling down. Please note, I know we’re not the first ones to think about it. An opinion piece in the guardian also quite nicely sums up this problem. But as something so paramount in the lives of me and my peers, I did want to pause and ponder what it meant for me, and how I think that it should not be a one-way evolving process.

I find it quite hard to describe settling down. Instead, it is easier to define it sine qua non: a definition based on not being the definition’s opposite. So what is not settling down? It all starts with the need to satisfy one’s lust for life. The picture above, two women parading down the streets of New York, is by the Dutch photographer Ed van Elsken. He is known for his unmatched ability to capture this phenomenon of “lust for life”: in his photographs, mainly adolescent life is captured. Where scenes of lusty parties are followed by frivolous day-to-day life. This need of its subjects to to be seen, to be acknowledged, to live life to its fullest, flows through all of his work. His subjects are not ready, and also look as if they are despising settling down, to “lose” this lust.

Instead, how come that eventually most of all these subjects, including me and my friends, eventually will settle down? I feel that a phenomenon, famously shown by the marshmallow test, plays a crucial role here. During early childhood, we learn that some rewards are worth waiting longer for. The marshmallow test exploits this difference in understanding by an experiment involving young children. They are to be seated in front of a table with a marshmallow on top of it. The children are given two options: they either eat the marshmallow now, or wait for a while untill they are given an extra marshmallow. The urge for easy, and quick satisfaction, needs to be suppressed in order to acquire a bigger satisfaction later on. Although this process is learned at year 6, it is not unimaginable that this is part of a more broader process of growing up. A process that lasts untill adolescence, where the need to fulfill one’s lust for life has to be balanced to match one’s need to fulfill long-standing dreams, hopes, and ambitions.

Finally, settling down, for me, is not a one-way directional process. It is too simplistic to simply say that once you understand that ambitions, or dreams are more “worth your time”, you simply learn to suppress the lust for life. Instead, I would recommend at least myself, to let go of that break once in a while. Growing up is not letting go of youth, it is learning how to balance that so you don’t lose track of your hopes and dreams. Living life to its fullest, while eating as much marshmallows as possible.

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