I know better than to say “everything happens for a reason” to the mom who has just learned of her daughter’s Leukemia, or to declare, “It was meant to be” to a girlfriend stuck in an abusive marriage. However, new researched published in “Psychological Science,” a journal of the Association of Psychological Science, suggests that we deal with difficult decisions by shifting responsibility to fate.
“Fate is a ubiquitous supernatural belief, spanning time and place,” write researchers Aaron Kay, Simone Tang, and Steven Shepherd of Duke University. “It exerts a range of positive and negative effects on health, coping, and both action and inaction.”
Kay, Tang, and Shepherd hypothesized that people may invoke fate as a way of assuaging their own stress and fears – a way of saying “It’s out of my hands now, there’s nothing I can do.” A so-called Pontius Pilate.
“Belief in fate, defined as the belief that whatever happens was supposed to happen and that outcomes are ultimately predetermined, may be especially useful when one is facing these types of difficult decisions,” they explain.
To test their hypothesis, the researchers capitalized on a current event of considerable significance: the 2012 U.S. presidential election. They conducted two online surveys in which the participants had to choose between Obama and Romney. The more difficult the decision, the more likely they were to believe in fate. For example, “Fate will make sure that the candidate that eventually gets elected is the right one.”
I find this interesting because the more severe my depression, the more difficult it is for me to make decisions. There was a time last summer that I lacked all capability to confirm or deny on the most basic decisions: to wear shorts or pants, to work from home or Panera, to go to church or to swim. I was flipping a coin several times an hour to do the thinking for me. And when I was leaning one way, but lacked the confidence to commit to that path (like what to pack in the kids’ lunches), I would flip a coin three times, and go with the majority of three (two heads vs. one tails). On some level, I believed that God was telling me which way to go and that gave me comfort. And the harder the decision, the more I relied on the notion of God’s will or fate to direct me.
“Belief in fate may ease the psychological burden of a difficult decision, but whether that comes at the cost of short-circuiting an effective decision-making process is an important question for future research,” the researchers conclude.
Originally published on Sanity Break at EverydayHealth.com