In an entertaining “On Science” column in the January 12th issue of Newsweek, Sharon Begley comments on the rarity of scientists changing their minds in the face of new evidence. In her own survey of scientific literature, Begley has found what all those who have examined the question have always found, namely, that scientists develop the same sort of vested interests in their ideas as anyone else whose reputation depends on his opinions. They are generally as blinded by self-interest as the rest of us.
In this connection she approvingly quotes a recent exception to the rule, Harvard’s Daniel Gilbert. Apparently Gilbert’s bread and butter was the commonly held psychological theory that people are happier when they can change their minds—a veritable quintessence, perhaps, of the modern spirit. But in 2002 his research led him to the opposite conclusion, and so he changed his position. Gilbert now holds that people are happier once an irrevocable decision has been made, because then the can stop worrying about it, emphasize the positive, and move on. Most of us, I think, understand this generally from our own experience. At a certain point we have to quit agonizing over things; if we can’t quit, we’re miserable.
But Gilbert’s case is particularly instructive, and perhaps in ways deeper than Begley herself understands. Based on his new findings, Gilbert proposed to his girlfriend. Since for him the decision to marry was at least very nearly irrevocable, he reported that the result was that “I love my wife more than I loved my girlfriend.”
This is profound because it goes beyond a mere irrevocable decision to an irrevocable commitment. A culture based on easy divorce and serial monogamy has difficulty recognizing the inner character of commitment, which involves a deliberate act of the will to love. Such a commitment does not mean that initial feelings of euphoria will persist forever, or that troubles will not need to be overcome through hard and painful work. But enduring commitments pay deep dividends not only in our ability to understand more fully what love is, but in our capacity to give and receive love more fully as time goes by.
Still, if we want to minimize our disillusionment from sheer human weakness, we are wise to take the extra step of stirring a little grace into the recipe. Christ’s sacramentalization of marriage adds not only a new engraced purpose (mutual salvation) but an infinite source of grace (Christ Himself) to the partnership. Moreover, in marriage as in all other commitments, prayer releases even more graces.
We ought to take advantage of such graces because, much as Daniel Gilbert has proven, people really are happier when they make—and keep—irrevocable commitments.
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