Ask Ariely: On Moving In, Stopping By, and Checking Out

Here’s my Q&A column from the WSJ this week  and if you have any questions for me, you can tweet them to @danariely with the hashtag #askariely, post a comment on my Ask Ariely Facebook page, or email them to AskAriely@wsj.com.

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Dear Dan,

Last week, I asked my girlfriend to move in with me. After an awkward silence, she said that she couldn’t move in with me because she’s scared of dogs and dislikes my small Jack Russell terrier. I love my girlfriend and don’t want to lose her, but I don’t want to give my dog away either. Any advice?

—Mike

This was most likely a test of your love for her, and you failed—so you don’t really need to worry about this particular dilemma.

Still, you may face something similar in the future. If we looked at your dilemma from a rational economic perspective, the answer would be straightforward: Start by writing down how much happiness you get each day from your dog and how much happiness you expect to get each day from your girlfriend. Next, multiply each of these numbers by the expected duration of the relationship and discount it by the natural decline in happiness as relationships go on. Then pick the relationship with the higher number.

Or we could use a more psychological perspective, rooted in what social scientists call “loss aversion.” According to loss aversion, we care more about avoiding losses than we care about winning gains. That means that, from your current perspective (living with your dog but without your girlfriend), you are probably overly focused on the loss of your pooch and insufficiently focused on the gains of joint life with your girlfriend. To overcome loss aversion, frame your choice not as giving up one thing and getting another but as a choice between two potential future states: one life with your dog but without your girlfriend, and another with your girlfriend but not your dog. Play out the two scenarios in your head, with all the little details of life, and see which scenario leaves you smiling more.

Finally, if you do go with the economic approach, choose your girlfriend and she asks you how you made your decision: Don’t ever tell her.

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Dear Dan,

I have lots of friends who grew up outside the U.S., and they often tell me that their social lives here aren’t as good as they were in their home countries. Are they just romanticizing their homelands, or are we Americans doing something wrong in our social relationships?

—Wendi

I agree with your friends—and I don’t think their memories are just biased and romanticized. Social life in the U.S. isn’t as good as it could be because Americans try too hard to be social.

I grew up in Israel, where friends simply stop by unannounced. This means that, as a host, you aren’t prepared, and no one expects to you to be. In this mutual low-expectations setup, visitors simply get integrated into whatever is going on. If they show up at dinnertime, they pull up a chair; if they come beforehand, they help chop vegetables.

In the U.S., on the other hand, we plan to see someone in seven weeks at 8 p.m., and everyone gears up for the occasion. The hosts clean the house and cook something special; the guests dress up and bring a gift. The whole process demands much more effort, and we therefore do it much less frequently. Maybe we should all lower our expectations and raise our appreciation for serendipity in our social lives.

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Dear Dan,

What is the best way to teach my kids about money?

—Raquel

Become their pay-day lender. Next time you’re in the checkout line at the supermarket and your kids want candy, offer to lend them the money at a weekly interest rate of 20%. Do this a few times, and they’ll quickly learn some important financial lessons.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.