Ask Ariely: On Fair Friends, Channel Choosing, and a Heartbreak Diet

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,

I’m organizing a long weekend of skiing with 10 friends who have very different financial situations. I’d like everyone to be able to pay what that they’re comfortable with, and I also want to avoid creating an awkward social dynamic. I considered charging everyone a low base amount and then asking the wealthier friends to pay extra, but that doesn’t seem quite right. What’s the best way to divide up the cost?

—Zach 

There are three considerations here. The first is to make sure that the amount people pay covers the cost of the trip. The second is to get everyone to feel that the payment is fair. And the third is to make sure that the payment procedure doesn’t harm your relationships and hamper the fun.
My guess is that if you approached a few of the wealthier people and asked them to pay extra, this wouldn’t seem fair and would change the social dynamic. If the wealthier individuals paid more, they would probably want to get the better rooms in the rented house, they might not feel the same need to help with meals and cleanup, etc.
I would try to overcome these challenges by setting up a rule that said: If your annual salary is X or less, please contribute Y; if it is up to 1.5X, please contribute 1.5Y.
This isn’t the same fairness rule as equal pay, but it is still a fair rule. I would add some social framing to this, reminding your friends that you all value the shared experience and the joint company, and it is important that everybody participates and isn’t stressed about the trip. I would also make the payments private, so that no one knows how much other people are paying.
The challenge with this approach is that you probably don’t know your friends’ exact incomes, and some of them might not pay what they should under your scheme. I suggest that you take this into account by adding an extra 10% to the price. And if your friends surprise you by being honest, have a nice party on the last day of the trip.
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Dear Dan,

Why do I still listen to the radio and watch live TV when I have access to all the same content from different streaming services, which lets me skip what I don’t like and more easily change my experience?

—Colin 

One possibility is that you are listening to the radio and watching live TV because you don’t want to have the ability to switch. When you just experience something that cannot be changed, you are more likely to get into the flow and fully enjoy it. By contrast, when you are continuously monitoring the experience and asking yourself how happy you are, it can be exhausting, ultimately taking away from the sense of immersion. Sometimes the freedom to choose among options isn’t a recipe for happiness.

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Dear Dan,

I recently experienced some turbulent emotional times, and I realized that I was eating a lot of chocolate and gaining weight. I am now wondering if chocolate really has mood-improving powers, as many people seem to think, or if I just gained weight for no good reason.

—Mia 

Some research has found that chocolate can in fact boost your mood—perhaps due to compounds found in cocoa. Interestingly, women seem to be more likely than men to eat chocolate to try to boost their moods. That could mean that experiencing some heartbreak is a good diet for men but not for women.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.