In recent weeks I have spent countless hours scouring the internet for places to live around Deerfield, IL. The cost of living up there is significantly higher, which means Ike and I are going to have to downsize. One of the casualties of this step down–we will no longer have a bathroom that’s big enough for two sinks. This past year we were lucky enough to find an apartment with two sinks in the master bathroom, and I have to admit it’s one of my favorite things about the place. I don’t know how Ike manages to get toothpaste on both the faucet AND mirror, nor do I understand why the drain is so clogged that the water just stands still in the sink. What I do know is that I LOVE having my own, clean, pretty sink all to myself.
But those days are coming to an end. Soon enough, we will be sharing sinks. Oh the suffering.
As I have examined my feelings about the change, I’ve realized that I wouldn’t have had such strong emotions about the sharing of a sink had I never experienced the privilege of having my own sink in the first place. It’s like once you have your own sink, you can’t go back.
Interestingly, there’s actually a psychological reason for the high value I have placed on my sink, and it was described in a book entitled Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces that Shape Our Decisions. Written by a professor of Behavioral Economics at MIT named Dan Ariely, the book examines this phenomenon of possession: “When we own something–whether it’s a car or a violin, a cat or a basketball ticket–we begin to value it more than other people do.” In other words, when we possess something, we perceive it as being more valuable than we did before we possessed it.
To demonstrate this point, Ariely did a case study of Duke students who camped out for basketball tickets. After the lottery determining who got tickets and who didn’t, Ariely interviewed students who won tickets, as well as students who lost. And his findings were fascinating! When he interviewed a student who lost the lottery, and asked how much he’d be willing to pay for a ticket if provided with the opportunity, the student wouldn’t go higher than $175. Although the game would be a great experience, he could think of better ways to use the money while simply watching the game on t.v.
Ariely then interviewed a lottery winner, and asked how much he’d be willing to sell his ticket for. First the student said that he didn’t have a price–this was a once in a lifetime opportunity that he could tell his kids and grandkids about! But when pressed, his minimum asking price was $2400.
In total, Ariely interviewed more than 100 students. On average, the students without a ticket were willing to pay $170 for one. However, the average student who did have a ticket would accept no less than $2400. And among all the phone calls Ariely made, not a single student was willing to sell a ticket at a price that anyone was willing to pay. The author’s explanation of this was plain and simple: an aversion to loss. As a general rule, whatever we possess, we want to keep. Whether it’s a basketball ticket, or your own personal sink.
So why am I bringing all of this up? Because Ariely’s study demonstrates two important spiritual principles:
1. The more earthly treasures we add to our lives, the more important they become to us. For instance, when I was in college I lived in a teeny tiny dorm room and I was perfectly content! Now that I live in a two bedroom apartment, I can’t even imagine living in such a confined space. Our possessions are not simply a matter of stewardship but the state of our hearts. Possessions can change our hearts so radically that we literally cannot imagine living without them.
2. Our aversion to loss of possessions can ultimately hinder our relationship with God. When we lose something important to us, whether it be a job, a house, a loved one, our health, or our dreams, it’s tempting to feel that God has taken something from us. He has betrayed us, failed to make good on His promises. This temptation towards bitterness occurs because of the phenomenon Ariely describes. It also explains why Christians across the world are able to live in poverty yet still love God without bitterness. While they certainly desire health and safety, there is not always the same sense of entitlement. One is less inclined to feel that God has taken something from you if you never had it in the first place.
Ariely’s study therefore presents us with a warning. Our hearts are predisposed to instantly grip themselves around our possessions. In a very real way, we will come to value our possessions much more highly than we did before we had them. There’s almost no going back. So be discerning about what you own, and also be discerning about how your relationship to your possessions can ultimately impact your relationship with God. What seems like a gift may one day serve as a wedge between you and the Giver.
**And on a totally unrelated note, if you have any connections in the Deerfield area and can help me and my husband find a place to live, shoot me a line!!