Parents' perspectives on a Catholic vocation journey
How do you measure happiness?
This post should appeal to those who are interested in hard data from reliable sources. If your objection arises from a belief that your son will not be happy as a priest, take a look at the current research published in:
Why Priests Are Happy: A Study of the Psychological and Spiritual Health of Priests. This book has been described as a “groundbreaking study…(which) finds that American priests enjoy an extraordinarily high rate of happiness and satisfaction, among the highest of any profession.”
This book presents the findings of survey research done in 2009 of 2,482 priests from 23 diocese in the US. It is supplemented by a previous research study from 2004 of 1,242 priests from 16 dioceses. The focus of the study was the psychological and spiritual health of Catholic priests in the US.
Standardized pyschological tests and modern statistical analysis were used to compare priests to norm samples of the general population and then identify the elements which significantly contribute to happiness in priests.
A central finding of this study is the exraordinarily high rate of priestly happiness and satisfaction. The findings are strong, replicable and consistent. They like priesthood…are committed to it..and find much satisfaction in their lives and ministries. The satisfaction of priests are among the highest of any way of life or vocation in the US.
The statement “Overall, I am happy as a priest” had a response of Stongly Agree or Agree by 90% of surveyed priests in 2004 and 92.4% in 2009.
Another central finding of the study was that the psychological health of priests tested slightly better than the laity on standardized tests for depression, anxiety and general psychological health. Priests reported high rates of close friendships with both other priests and with laity.
Fourteen factors were found to be signifiant and account for almost 50% of what makes a happy priest. The strongest predictor of priestly happiness was the priest’s own sense of inner peace and joy which was closely linked to their spiritual health. To be a happy priest necessarily includes having a strong relationhip with God and daily nurturing that relationship with spiritual practices: celebrating the sacraments, private prayer, Liturgy of the Hours, rosary and spiritual reading. Personal celebration of the sacrament of Reconciliation and a relationship with a Spiritual Director also contribute to a healthy spiritual life.
Other factors which contribute to priestly happiness include a healthy view of celibacy, a positive relationship with the Bishop, having close friends (both priests and liaty), feeling supported by other priests, attending priest gatherings, family support of their vocation. making an annual retreat and a regular day off as well as vacation. Each one of these factors is described and discussed in depth if you want to investigate these factors on a deeper level.
Lest you think the research outlined in this book is self serving
and slanted to show priesthood in a positive light, other social research backs up this study. While researching this concept, I was surprised to find this very topic the subject of a homily by Fr. Jonathan Meyer posted online titled “The Secret to a Happy Life”. Click HERE to watch the video. Fr. Meyer references a study conducted by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago on job satisfaction and overall happiness. The findings demonstrate that clergy rank #1 in both these areas which is well above the #2 rank held by firefighters.
Job Satisfaction score General Happiness score
Clergy 87.2 67.2
Firefighters 80.1 57.2
You can’t get much more secular than the University of Chicago and the National Opionion Research Center. The NORC regularly conducts social science research on job satisfaction and overall happiness by occupation.
It is important to understand that a Catholic priest is not an occupation, but a life. It is not something you put on at 8am and take off at 5pm. You can’t think of a priest as a job like an engineer or an accountant. Just like being a parent is not an occupation, but your life….forever.. Do you ever stop being a parent? From your child’s birth on into adulthood, you worry and care for your child in a thousand different ways that change over time.
If your son discerns that he is called to be a priest, it will be something he becomes and not just an occupation or career. As a parent, this concept will take time, reflection and prayer to understand all the implications for you and your son.
Please know that the authors of this blog pray daily for parents of discerning sons and daughters to find understanding and peace.