One of the comments we hear most often when we tell people about Evan’s discernment is, “That’s quite a commitment.”
Yep. Sure is.
I’ve got to admit, though, that I often have a less-than-charitable (much less) reaction.
Marriage is quite a commitment, too. The Church makes this clear in the Catechism when it notes:
Thus the marriage bond has been established by God himself in such a way that a marriage concluded and consummated between baptized persons can never be dissolved. This bond, which results from the free human act of the spouses and their consummation of the marriage, is a reality, henceforth irrevocable, and gives rise to a covenant guaranteed by God’s fidelity. The Church does not have the power to contravene this disposition of divine wisdom.
The phrases “can never be dissolved” and “henceforth irrevocable” don’t leave much room for interpretation. Marriage — properly considered — is a life-long commitment.
I’m not arguing that the religious life is easier than — or even equivalent to — marriage. Both states have their challenges and blessings. God’s grace is all that gets any of us through either of them.
What really bothers me about that comment, though, is the modern notion that commitment is a bad thing and maybe he ought to keep his options open. I don’t think that’s the way God intended things to work and the research backs me up.
I stumbled over this study while preparing a presentation called “Hacking Your Happiness to be more Relaxed, Resilient, and Resourceful.” The premise of the presentation is that there are simple things we can do to “hack” our own emotional states for the better. One of the simplest is making choices.
Behaviorist and research Dan Ariely conducted research on making choices using materials you probably have around the house — undergraduates from MIT and a door simulation program that pays real cash awards. Okay, you probably don’t have those things around your house, so I’ll just give you the lowdown from a New York Times article.
In the M.I.T. experiments, the students should have known better. They played a computer game that paid real cash to look for money behind three doors on the screen. After they opened a door by clicking on it, each subsequent click earned a little money, with the sum varying each time.
As each player went through the 100 allotted clicks, he could switch rooms to search for higher payoffs, but each switch used up a click to open the new door. The best strategy was to quickly check out the three rooms and settle in the one with the highest rewards.
Even after students got the hang of the game by practicing it, they were flummoxed when a new visual feature was introduced. If they stayed out of any room, its door would start shrinking and eventually disappear.
They should have ignored those disappearing doors, but the students couldn’t. They wasted so many clicks rushing back to reopen doors that their earnings dropped 15 percent. Even when the penalties for switching grew stiffer — besides losing a click, the players had to pay a cash fee — the students kept losing money by frantically keeping all their doors open.
Ariely explains the phenomenon this way:
“Closing a door on an option is experienced as a loss, and people are willing to pay a price to avoid the emotion of loss,” Dr. Ariely says. In the experiment, the price was easy to measure in lost cash. In life, the costs are less obvious — wasted time, missed opportunities. If you are afraid to drop any project at the office, you pay for it at home.
“We may work more hours at our jobs,” Dr. Ariely writes in his book, “without realizing that the childhood of our sons and daughters is slipping away. Sometimes these doors close too slowly for us to see them vanishing.”
It’s that sense of loss, I think, that people are expressing when they talk about the commitment inherent in pursuing a vocation. And, there’s truth in that. Choosing a life built on promises does limit your options. But, as Ariely demonstrated in his experiment, we can experience greater rewards by committing to a choice. In the final analysis, making a choice and moving ahead in God’s grace is the path to satisfaction.
A lovely post over at the Happy Catholic blog captures the truth of this better than I did. Read it here.
Watch Dan himself explain his research.
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