The M&M Theory

Today everyone has a theory—and most have a book—about how to be successful: The Success Book: The Secret to Happiness and Success; The Genius in All of Us. In all of this rush for self-motivation and finding the secrets to success, we have forgotten one thing: the power of M&Ms.

Do you remember when you first saw M&Ms? Someone put a few red and orange and brown pearls in your hand. Despite the “melts in your mouth, not in your hand” slogan, you soon had little islands of red and yellow in the center of chocolate swamps coating your hands.

I loved M&M’s immediately for their colors. I would sort them into little hills of lipstick red, canary yellow, Christmas tree green, and basic brown. Then I would munch my way through the boring hills of brown, the so-so yellows, the verdant greens, saving the Santa Claus reds for last. Of course, there were never enough reds. I always wondered why they made so many dull, dirt-colored browns, but that didn’t stop me from eating them.

Although it is somewhat barbaric, like eating a grasshopper, I love to hold a single M&M on my tongue and gently press as the outer shell cracks and the chocolate explodes, a firecracker of flavor. When I am deep into a writing project, adding and deleting, trying a word here, expanding a scene there, a few reds and greens unlock words like ambergris and ambrosia, syzygy and effigy.  I especially like M&Ms when I am trying to create a new assignment or am writing to a deadline. When Bob and Vanna (trust me, these are their real names) come around to empty my garbage at work, they can gauge my day by what’s in the can. “Tough day, today?” they might ask if M&M wrappers pour out of the can.

Despite all the personal evidence I’ve amassed, I’ve never seen a major study explaining the secret power of M&Ms. I think we have grossly underestimated the good that can come from judicious M&M use. Why, I even potty trained my kids using M&Ms.

  • sitting on the potty, 2 M&Ms
  • going potty, 5 M&Ms
  • flushing, 2 M&Ms
  • washing hands, 2 M&Ms


M&Ms also formed my children’s moral values. On Monday evenings, we gathered for family night where we sang a hymn, presented a religious lesson and then played games and had treats. It wasn’t easy for five rambunctious children to quit poking each other while saying brotherly and sisterly phrases, like “If your bum wasn’t so big we could all fit on the couch” or “You sound like a sick cow when you sing.” Once again, it was M&Ms to the rescue. I would tell a Bible story and ask them simple questions, and, you guessed it, the child who answered got an M&M. It gave me a feeling of power, of pride in my well-behaved and brilliant children, as they raptly watched me and responded enthusiastically. Oh, if there were only an M&M fix for teenagers!

Originally, M&Ms came in yellow, red, green, light brown, and dark brown. Now you can buy aqua green, silver, gold, or maroon M&Ms. You can even have your face imprinted on your M&Ms! And yet, they are still called plain M&Ms. The word plain connotes ordinary, basic, bare, boring. Maybe the person who labeled them plain wanted to keep the little saucer-shaped morsels to herself.

I’m not quite sure what is so magical about the so-called plain M&M. Over the years I have experimented with other candies–Snickers or Lemonheads or Tootsie Rolls–but they are unworthy substitutes. A Snickers bar has more calories than a package of M&Ms, 271 for Snickers and 236 for M&Ms, but a Snickers bar lacks the festive colors, the anticipatory crunch, and the rush of chocolate flavor. It seems like a plebian bar that you would buy to increase your stamina while hiking, not for such intellectually stimulating tasks as determining whether you should be using “affect” or “effect” for best effect (or is that affect?) Lemonheads are everlasting—you can suck on them for hours, a  slow, steady infusion of sugar to the brain and a heyday for dental caries, but they lack the jolt of chocolate to jumpstart a sluggish brain delivered by the M&M morsel. And Tootsie Rolls don’t have moxie. How can I decide whether to send my story to the Twin Falls Times-News or Glimmertrain while chewing on a lowly Tootsie Roll, the candy deglamorized as a result of thousands of households dispensing them as cheap trick-or-treat candy. These other wannabe candies lack the mystery, the inscrutability (see what M&Ms can do for your brain, to say nothing of your vocabulary), the exquisite melding of the Easter egg and the chocolate bunny.

Hey, pass the M&Ms.


About Judy Grigg Hansen
I write poetry and nonfiction, and I am passionate about the people, places, and wildflowers of Idaho and the Northwest.

6 Responses to The M&M Theory

  1. debut dad says:

    What a great theory!

  2. Jerry says:

    Judy, I love it. But please, Snickers are the best. Jerry

  3. Dick says:

    What neat story, M & Ms are perfect for playing “Don’t Eat Pete” Good work. Dad

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