Latter-day Saint Life

A definition of YOLO to bring more joy to covenant living

Emily + Adam Wedding
Natthaya Beatty Photography

After our temple sealing, my husband and I held another ceremony to exchange vows. I wanted to put a lot of thought into my vows, but in the hustle of wedding planning, I didn’t have much time to put pen to paper—and it stressed me out. Of all the days to be sweetly romantic and over the top, this was it. How was I going to craft together my perfect prose in the hour or so I had to do it? Well, to my surprise, exactly what I wanted to tell Adam came to me nearly right away once I sat down to write.

The overall message of my vows was this: I am committed to him.

Not quite the grand expression of love and adoration my 16-year-old self may have imagined. But to me, pure, heartfelt commitment has become perhaps the most romantic thing in the world. Telling Adam that I was committed to choosing him for the long haul felt like the purest expression of love I could think of.

My vows were influenced by a podcast episode I’d listened to from Yale psychology professor Dr. Laurie Santos. In her podcast, called The Happiness Lab, she uses the latest scientific research to share “surprising and inspiring stories that will change the way you think about happiness.”

I was on a run when I listened to her episode on commitment which not only changed the way I think about happiness, but also changed the way I think about my covenants, and not just those associated with the sealing ordinance. I was so excited about the new light this information shed on covenants, that I basically sprinted back to my house (not something I ever normally do).

I already knew that keeping covenants was important, but Dr. Santos and her podcast guests—without mentioning the word “covenants” once—helped me better understand the profound power they have to help us be happy. And funnily enough, it all starts with redefining YOLO. I hope that as I share what I learned from Dr. Santos’s research, you too will have a deeper appreciation for what an exciting gift it is to make and keep covenants.


Most of us know what the acronym YOLO stands for: you only live once. But most of us have strayed far away from the acronym’s original intent. On the podcast, Dr. Santos talks with Mickey Hart, drummer for the band The Grateful Dead, who originally coined the phrase YOLO in the late 90s. But get this—when Mickey coined the phrase, he didn’t mean it the way many of us now interpret it: a motto for when we want to do something spontaneous, carefree, or even reckless. He didn’t mean that at all. For Mickey YOLO meant throwing yourself fully into a choice. And he saw it as the best way to live our lives: You only live once, so you’d better commit to something.

And it turns out Mickey’s YOLO philosophy is backed up by science.

Dr. Santos explained that our brains tell us to fear commitment, saying, “When we face big decisions in life, we tend to dwell on what we’ll miss out on when we make a commitment. We often worry that choosing one thing, whether it’s a spouse or a career or a craft or a place to live, will mean closing doors on better opportunities for our future.” She calls this response a psychological warning; we might call it FOMO. Our brains are trying to help us think through any potential dangers. But the reality is that there are huge benefits to committing to something. “What our lying minds don’t realize is that the best gift we can give ourselves is the joy of the long haul—all the benefits of connection, depth, and joy that can only come from investment and dedication.”

I can see what Dr. Santos means—think of how joyful it is to gather around a dinner table with people you’ve known for years. Or to see progress in the skill you’ve been practicing for months. A guest on the podcast episode described commitment as “planting a seed in the desert. It’s the beginning of a reforestation project.” Don’t you love that imagery?

But the benefits of commitment don’t come in just in the future. We can also start to see benefits right away. “Commitments tend to take on their own momentum,” Dr. Santos explains, noting that whatever we’ve committed to tends to open itself to us. For example, we start to recognize more opportunities related to our new commitment than we did before. And what looked difficult from the outside, is often more attainable than we think once we dive into it. In addition to what may start to happen externally around us, our internal identities also begin to shift as soon as we commit. Her comments on the power of beginning brought to mind two gospel-related quotes I’ve always loved. The first is from Scottish writer William H. Murray:

“The moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.”

And then, of course, Dr. Santos’s use of the word ‘momentum’ made me think of President Nelson’s talk “The Power of Spiritual Momentum.” He said, “Positive spiritual momentum will keep us moving forward amid the fear and uncertainty created by pandemics, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, and armed hostilities. Spiritual momentum can help us withstand the relentless, wicked attacks of the adversary.”

Are you seeing the wonderfully hopeful message in all these ideas? While sometimes scary, commitment is powerful! Commitment provides a momentum that leads to joy and progress, now and down the road.

Commitment to Covenants

Now let’s tie this to the covenants we make as Latter-day Saints. As part of Their plan of salvation, Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ offer us the opportunity to formally commit ourselves to Them via covenants. Through baptism, confirmation, and other ordinances performed in the temple, we begin to experience a change in opportunity and identity. And then each week during the sacrament, we have an opportunity to recommit to Christ. And we can do this all throughout our lives, allowing us to reap both the short-term and long-term benefits of commitment. It’s like Heavenly Father knows a thing or two about human psychology.

Dr. Santos’s research also makes it clear to me that being perfect at commitment is not the point. The point is for our commitments to help change us over time. President Nelson has taught, “As we strive to live the higher laws of Jesus Christ, our hearts and our very natures begin to change.” I now visualize making a covenant as choosing to open a door, taking a step inside, and then bravely shutting the door behind you—determined to give this chosen path your all. Making a covenant is not promising to be perfect, it is dedicating ourselves to being with the Savior for the long haul.

And each time we take another step on the covenant path, we rest deeper into our commitment. With that in mind, I love even more what President Nelson said during his first message as prophet:

“Your commitment to follow the Savior by making covenants with Him and then keeping those covenants will open the door to every spiritual blessing and privilege available to men, women, and children everywhere.”

If I wasn’t before, the psychology and theology have me convinced—the opportunity to commit to covenants is a huge gift.

And, sadly, a very misunderstood one. Remember how completely society flipped the original intent of YOLO? We live in a world where commitment is not always popular. We flit from one trend to the next. Most of us can’t even commit to a movie to watch, instead browsing through streaming services for hours in case a better option comes up.

I also wonder if sometimes we hesitate to fully identify as a follower of Christ because we are worried we aren’t good enough or don’t know enough, forgetting that the point of dedication and commitment is to change and reap benefits along the way.

If you have ever feared commitment, the Joseph Smith translation of Luke 14:27 may help. The verse reads, “And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.” Then the translation adds, “Wherefore, settle this in your hearts, that ye will do the things which I shall teach, and command you,” (emphasis added). I love the word “settle,” because that is what covenants offer us—freedom from bouncing from one philosophy to the next or suffering from the fear that we aren’t good enough. Instead, we settle down and let the Savior in, trusting Him to give us direction in our choices and safety in our storms. And please note that the verse does not say, “Settle this in your hearts, that ye will be perfect at everything I teach.” No, the Savior asks for our commitment to do what He says, not our perfection.

Dr. Santos didn’t mention faith in Christ on her podcast, but I love how her words apply to our community of believers: “The science shows that the best way to use this precious life, one that we really will only live once, is to commit to the act of committing.”

As Latter-day Saints, let’s allow ourselves to fully commit to Jesus Christ. To walk with purpose along the covenant path, knowing it is a journey, and trusting the One who calls us to come. Because while we are all still learning how to keep commitments, the Savior is perfect at it. He alone will never let us down.

▶ You may also like: The only marriage advice I really needed (that might help you too)

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