Thursday, April 22, 2004

COMMIT TO YOUR COMMITMENTS

The Virtue of Happiness
By Dr. Joel Wade


Remember the old traditional marriage vows? “…For better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.”

There are good reasons for these words, and other words of commitment like them, and these reasons are not just the ones you might think.

Of course there’s the obvious element of duty, of keeping your commitments to others to establish trust and to maintain an honorable reputation - with yourself as well as with others.

Then there’s the recognition that others are counting on you, and that your success or failure at sticking with your commitment to them will affect their lives, particularly when children are involved.

These are important reasons. A good life involves good dealings with other people. But, as with most if not all of the virtues, there is also a very important component to commitment that relates directly to personal happiness.

When you make a commitment, you are making a choice, you are deciding upon a course of action that will continue into the future to some extent. When you stick with your commitment, you are limiting the number of choices that are open to active consideration. This may seem like a negative - limiting your choices - but it is not.

We all know the upside to increased choice. But there is a downside as well. Every choice takes time and energy. There is a certain degree of anxiety that accompanies every choice. When we have too many choices open, our time and energy becomes monopolized by these open choices. It is far better to decide that some choices are non-reversible (Barry Schwartz talks about this in his recent book, The Paradox of Choice, a book I highly recommend).

Living well is largely a matter of setting priorities, spending your money, time, and energy on what matters to you, and not spending it on what does not matter to you. Spending your money, time, and energy on keeping your options open, when you could be spending them on something of greater value - like making the most of your marriage or your other non-reversible choices - is a poor use of choice.

When someone makes commitments in this fashion, others can trust that his actions will match his words, and his actions will have consistency over time - and so can he. It’s a nice, solid feeling to be around someone whose commitments are commitments. In part this is because it is a nice solid feeling to be someone whose commitments are commitments.

Your homework this week is to consider which decisions you are keeping somewhat open, and which of these you could close by simply deciding that they are not reversible. Spend some time imagining what it would be like to close these options. You may find that you have more time and energy available to put toward other things that matter more to you.


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