Ask Ariely: On Doing Dishes, Curbing Consumerism, and Reducing Regret

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,

When I host friends for dinner, can I ask them to help with cleaning up afterward? I hate doing dishes, but maybe it’s impolite to ask guests to share the load.

—Evelyn 

I think that you should ask your friends to help. Doing dishes isn’t fun, but if your guests pitch in they will derive satisfaction from knowing they are helping you out. Not only is it a way for them to express appreciation for the meal, but working together on a task is a way of increasing social bonds.

But since the end of an experience is important in determining how we remember and evaluate it, you may want to avoid ending the evening with this chore. Instead, try cleaning up together right after the meal and then invite everyone for a final drink. Of course, that would create a few more glasses to wash, but you would end the evening on a positive note.

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Hi, Dan.

I’ve told my family and friends that I don’t want them to buy me any gifts for the holidays this year—I already have everything I need. I’ve also learned about the bad working conditions for store employees during the holiday season and don’t want to contribute to the problem. Still, I’m worried that by cutting out gifts, I’ll miss the fun and energy of the season. Do you have any suggestions for other ways to show generosity?

—Name 

Your commitment to avoiding consumerism this holiday season is admirable, but naturally it would be disappointing to see all your friends having fun and getting gifts while you don’t.

Why don’t you make a list of items you have at home in good condition but don’t want, and ask your friends to make a similar list. On Black Friday weekend, instead of hitting the sales, you could all get together and exchange things on your lists. If you want to have the fun of hunting for bargains, you could even hold an “auction” where you negotiate which items you are willing to trade. This way you will get some new things for the holidays, you will experience some of the fun of shopping and looking for deals, and you will be sticking to your principles.

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Dear Dan,

I’m shopping for a new car and I’ve been finding it hard to make a decision. Which would I regret more—buying a car I really want but later finding out that I made a bad choice, or not buying the car I really want and later finding out I should have bought it?

—Warren 

Research shows that in the short term, we tend to regret actions—in this case, buying a car—more than inactions. But in the long term, we’re more likely to regret the things we didn’t do. Psychologists suspect that this is because the consequences of inaction are uncertain and take much longer to make an impact. So while you might have regrets at first if you buy a car you don’t like, choosing not to buy a car you love would be worse in the long run.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal.