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Commitment as a path to happiness

Originally Appeared in : 9916-8/1/19

This morning I listened to a fascinating story on the radio about the inner workings of the mind. The scientist interviewed described a recent study he conducted that yielded shocking results: people who make concrete, irrevocable choices are happier than those who prefer leaving their options open and fail to choose definitively one thing over another. The scientist was so surprised with the findings of his research that he went home and proposed to his girlfriend with whom he had lived for ten years. He now joyfully states that he is happier than before, and loves her more than ever. As a scientist who accepts the findings achieved through the scientific method as truth, he felt obliged to put into action in his personal life what his professional work demonstrated.

 

As the hour-long National Public Radio story ended, I considered the relevance of the study’s conclusion in today’s society. We are currently experiencing a general crisis in commitment. Not only has the commitment to marriage, priesthood, and religious life decreased in today’s society, but the commitment to dinner on Friday night is also in crisis. It has become acceptable to live uncommitted even to the smallest things: plans have become tentative, always meant to be confirmed later. Many are plagued by the concern that something better will come along, or they may not feel like doing whatever they committed to whenever the times comes. Our ability to communicate instantly has hastened this attitude. We are now able to confirm an appointment minutes before, or cancel it because something more interesting emerged.

 

The scientist of the story described two types of test subjects in one of his studies. One was given the choice to pick a sweater from among many and keep it. The other was given the choice to pick a sweater from among many, but had the option to switch it whenever she wished. The first subject chose and was happy every time she wore – it was her sweater. The second subject however continued to second-guess her choice, finding an issue or problem with every sweater whenever she wore it. Commitment indeed does away with other options, but from commitment comes permanence, stability and happiness. 
The following words are attributed to President Abraham Lincoln: “Commitment is what transforms a promise into reality. It is the words that speak boldly of your intentions. And the actions which speak louder than the words. It is making the time when there is none. Coming through time after time after time, year after year after year. Commitment is the stuff character is made of; the power to change the face of things. It is the daily triumph of integrity over skepticism.”

 

Lincoln recognized that commitment requires hard work and perseverance. It requires and builds character. It demonstrates integrity. Pope Benedict reminded young people in 2010 that “each of us was created to make, not provisional and reversible choices, but definitive and irrevocable choices which give full meaning to existence.” It is by committing to the greatest possible thing which is God’s love, which lasts forever, that true existence begins and eternal happiness is found. 

 

Father Pablo Migone is chancellor of the Diocese of Savannah.

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