The Blog

Ask Ariely: On Tee Time, Quick Quizzes, and Leisurely Lifestyles

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,

Many CEOs claim to use golf to informally “get things done.” How much are they really accomplishing on the links?

—Paul 

I used to believe in the popular notion that golfing is an important business tool, but a paper published last year in the journal Management Science changed my view. Lee Biggerstaff, David Cicero and Andy Puckett collected golfing records for more than 300 CEOs from S&P 1500 firms from 2008 to 2012 and found that the more golf a CEO played, the more a firm’s performance and value decreased. When CEOs played at least 22 rounds in a year, they found, the mean return on assets was more than 100 basis points lower than for firms whose CEOs played golf less frequently. I’m inclined to think that the idea of golf as a business tool is a self-serving tale that CEOs tell themselves and us to justify spending time and money at play.

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Dear Dan,

I am an economics professor, and many of my students don’t complete their readings before class. That makes class activities ineffective and meaningful discussions impossible. I have tried incentives and punishments related to their final grades, but these haven’t done much. Any suggestions for nudging my students along here?

—Amarendu

This is a challenge. You’re right to think about offering incentives, but they have to be fairly immediate. Waiting until the end of the semester isn’t going to work. Your goals include fostering a love of learning that will endure long after your class, which means that your nudges shouldn’t be perceived as penalties but as ways to help your students do their best.

I recommend the following approach, which I use in my own courses. On the first day of class, I ask, “How many of you hope to do all the reading for each session?” They all raise their hands. Next I ask, “But how many of you will probably—particularly toward the end of the semester—sometimes not be on top of the readings before each class?” Again, they all raise their hands.

Then I say, “OK. To help you achieve your goals, we’re going to have a quick quiz on the assigned reading at the beginning of each class. The quizzes should take three or four minutes and will make up 10% of your final grade. And to be clear, they’re designed to help you be the kind of student you want to be.” This has worked for me, and I hope you’ll find it effective with your students.

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Dear Dan,

Is this column the best use of your time? For that matter, how should one decide how best to use one’s time, especially leisure time?

—Paul 

The way we spend our time, much like the way we spend our money, is mostly a question of opportunity cost. If you spend an hour reading, that’s an hour that you can’t spend training for a marathon.

People vary somewhat in what makes them happy, but the longevity expert Dan Buettner has found some general lessons. His research shows that the world’s happiest people, in an average day, spend less than 30 minutes watching TV, devote just 30 to 60 minutes to social media, listen to music for at least two hours and get six to nine hours of sleep. They also volunteer two to four hours a week, practice relaxation techniques, take at least four weeks of vacation a year, read a book at least every other month, engage in sexual activity (the more, the merrier, Mr. Buettner says), and have close friends who are racially and ethnically diverse.

All that may be too much of a lifestyle change for you, but try picking a few of the elements that seem simplest to implement—and over time, try to take on more.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.

Common Cents Lab Unveils Millennial Financial Regret Spending Report

New report seeks to measure whether spending can make you happy

SAN FRANCISCO, CA–(Marketwired – Sep 12, 2017) – and Durham, NC Common Cents Lab, a financial research lab at Duke University supported by MetLife Foundation, today unveiled its first ever Millennial Regret Spending Report.

“While it’s common to regret the last thing we ate, it may be equally common to regret the last thing we bought,” said Dan Ariely, Professor and behavioral economist. “The feeling of regret, while not pleasant, may serve as a teaching moment to help us understand what we enjoy and what we don’t enjoy. By systematically understanding the things people regret, we can design systems that encourage us to spend our money on things that make us happier.

Conducted in partnership with Qapital, a fintech app focused on helping people save and spend better, the new study surveyed 1,000 Americans between the ages of 20 and 36-years old to identify which purchases they regarded as either most regretful or most satisfying. Through this effort, the team of behavioral economists isolated four positive personal financial habits that others may emulate to improve financial wellness and fulfillment.

1. Put the Essentials on Autopay

Participants were asked to rate how satisfied they were about recurring versus nonrecurring expenses across a number of categories. Almost universally, millennials rated their regret roughly 10% lower for recurring items. Since most recurring items are paid automatically, the idiom “set it and forget it” may carry more meaning than we thought.

Like millennials, others can limit the angst of rent and insurance payments by placing them on autopay. At the same time, make the payments you’re most likely to regret more obvious by using cash or one-time payment methods.

2. Spend on Enrichment and Others

Millennials reported being most satisfied when spending on necessities (utilities, rent) or personal enrichment (community, education). The study also tracked what times of the week and year produced the most satisfying purchases. Seasonally, those purchases made near Thanksgiving and through the first two weeks of December produced nearly 90% satisfaction as compared to months like October and February that dropped below 50%.

The lesson is that guilty pleasures often come with a heaping of regret, and that the greatest fulfillment can be gained from purchases that enrich your own life or are made for others.

3. Limit Impulse Purchases

The data clearly shows a greater level of fulfillment (roughly 70%) for purchases critical to living such as rent, healthcare and groceries over impulse purchases (near 50%) like digital purchases, coffee shops, and fast food. Similarly, those purchases made on Wednesdays were nearly five percentage points more satisfying than those made on Saturday.

The takeaway is that decisions made independent of the pressure and the heat of the moment can improve your overall financial happiness.

4. Sweat the Small Stuff

That final tally for that $4 latte may be much more in the long run, according to the survey findings as Millennials tended to regret smaller purchases much more than larger ones. On average, respondents reported a high level of satisfaction for purchases taking up a larger portion of their monthly income.

“Individually, these lessons seem intuitive, but taken together as a lifestyle, they can provide a blueprint for living a much more satisfying financial life,” said Kristen Berman, co-founder of Common Cents. “Interestingly, these are lessons that can be applied regardless of income level as a guide to improved financial decision making.”

A full copy of the Millennial Financial Regret Spending Report is available by request or can be found at http://advanced-hindsight.com/millennial-financial-regret-spending/.

About The Common Cents Lab

The Common Cents Lab, supported by MetLife Foundation, is a financial research lab at the Center for Advanced Hindsight at Duke University that creates and tests interventions to help low- to moderate-income households increase their financial well-being. Common Cents leverages research gleaned from behavioral economics to create interventions that lead to positive financial behaviors. The lab is led by famed Behavioral Economics Professor Dan Ariely and is comprised of researchers and experts in product design, economics, psychology, public policy, advertising, business administration, and more.

To fulfill its mission, Common Cents partners with organizations, including fintech companies, credit unions, banks, and nonprofits, that believe their work could be improved through insights gained from behavioral economics. To learn more about Common Cents Lab visit www.commoncentslab.org.

About MetLife Foundation

MetLife Foundation was created in 1976 to continue MetLife’s long tradition of corporate contributions and community involvement. Since its founding through the end of 2016, MetLife Foundation has provided more than $744 million in grants and $70 million in program-related investments to organizations addressing issues that have a positive impact in their communities.

Today, the Foundation is dedicated to advancing financial inclusion, committing $200 million to help build a secure future for individuals and communities around the world.

To learn more about MetLife Foundation, visit www.metlife.org.

Find the original post here.

Behavioral Economist Seeks Post-doc

Hello hello,

I am looking for candidates for a joint post-doctoral position, to join me at the Center for Advanced Hindsight at Duke University in Durham, NC and with my colleague Panagiotis Mitkidis at the Department of Management at Aarhus BSS in Denmark.

To learn more about the position, click here.

Then, apply here by September 25th.

First review of DOLLARS AND SENSE

This is a review from Kirkus and they are not easy to please…

 

DOLLARS AND SENSE
How We Misthink Money and How to Spend Smarter
Author: Dan Ariely
Author: Jeff Kreisler
Illustrator: Matt Trower

Review Issue Date: September 15, 2017
Online Publish Date: September 4, 2017
Publisher:Harper/HarperCollins

A lively look at how even the wisest among us are too often fools eager to part with our money.Most of us think about money at least some portion of each day—how to get more of it, how to spend less of it. However, cautions Ariely (Psychology and Behavioral Economics/Duke Univ.; Payoff: The Hidden Logic That Shapes Our Motivations, 2016, etc.), working with comedian and writer Kreisler (Get Rich Cheating, 2009), “when we bring money into the equation, we make the decisions much more difficult and we open ourselves to mistakes.” The better course, they urge, is to consider money not for its own sake—indeed, not to acknowledge its existence at all—but instead to consider the concept of opportunity cost: what do we give up when we make one choice over another? Is the forgone acquisition really the correct one? What if, instead of buying a big-screen TV or new clothes, we thought of what we might do with the hours we don’t have to work in order to procure them or of the other things we might buy in their place? Such counsel comes after consideration of other economic notions, such as the endowment effect, whereby we give more significance to things simply because we own them, and our generally risk-averse economic behavior, whereby the pleasure taken in gaining something is vastly overshadowed by the pain caused by losing it. Ariely and Kreisler, writing breezily but meaningfully, allow that money has its uses as a symbolic system of fungible, storable, accessible value. However, the real consideration should always be that “spending money now on one thing is a trade-off for spending it on something else,” a calculation that is not often reckoned simply because it’s more difficult than fishing out a credit card or some other means of delaying the recognition that spending money now has future, downstream effects. A user-friendly and often entertaining treatise on how to be a more discerning, vastly more aware handler of money.

Ask Ariely: On Denying Donuts, Car Conversations, and Curbing Confidence

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 often fight with temptation, and it usually wins. I want to eat better, exercise more, save a bit for retirement and in general consider the future when I make decisions. How can I resist temptation?

—John 

There’s no easy answer to this old problem. As Oscar Wilde famously said, “I can resist anything except temptation.” The endless stream of enticements throughout the day makes it hard to consistently make good decisions. Even if we resist an urge here and there, we tend to end up failing a lot.

That’s where personal rules can help. In effect, we make a one-time decision when we create a guideline, and from then on, we are just executing a pre-existing policy, which makes life considerably simpler.

Imagine that someone in your office brought in a box of doughnuts every day, forcing you to decide every day whether to indulge. You would probably be able to overcome the temptation from time to time, but you would also probably break down on other occasions. If you simply had a flat personal policy—no doughnuts during the workweek—you would bypass the daily decision.

Of course, even the strongest among us is likely to break such rules every now and then, but having a policy and declaring it to yourself will help to keep you from giving in.

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Dear Dan,

Studies have shown that talking on a cellphone while driving (even using hands-free technology) is about as dangerous as driving while intoxicated. But talking to someone sitting in the passenger seat is widely considered fine. Why is talking on the phone in the car so much more dangerous?

—Larry

Your question revolves around the social norms of conversation. When we drive, a passenger can see what’s going on around the car—a bus swerving, a pedestrian running across the street, a light turning amber—and with this shared knowledge, both the driver and the passenger adjust the conversation. They chat more intensely when the driving conditions are good, and they shut up when road conditions demand more attention. A pause in the conversation isn’t strange for the passenger, who can also see what’s going on.

By contrast, when we’re talking on the phone while driving, our interlocutor has no idea what’s happening in and around the car and keeps up the conversation whether we can afford to divide our attention or not. The driver, who feels social pressure to be polite and keep chatting, has less attention to devote to the road and winds up taking extra chances. We thus put ourselves at great personal risk just to avoid being rude.

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Dear Dan,

I work at a consulting company where a heavy dose of personal overconfidence is standard. Any advice on how to reduce it?

—Jeff 

I’m not sure this is a problem. Social progress often depends on overly confident people. Consider those who open restaurants: They are clearly fighting the odds, and if they looked objectively at their decision, they might not be ready to gamble. But would we want to live in a society where people avoid such risks? The food would certainly be worse.

Overconfidence has an upside as well as a downside. So before you try to decrease it, think about the benefits it brings to your firm—including more innovation and motivation—and only then decide whether decreasing overconfidence is really the way to go.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal  here.

Ask Ariely: On Helping Hands, Popular Posts, and Mischievous Motivators

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 struggling financially, and I’m considering asking some friends for help—perhaps seeing if they could offer a small amount every month until things get better. Is this a good strategy, or should I ask for more money upfront?

—Jordan 

Mixing finances and personal relationships is always risky. But if you have the right friends—understanding, compassionate and generous of spirit—and are determined to go this route, I would ask them for all the money upfront.

The issue here isn’t just asking them for help; it is their having to think about your request. When a friendship gets tangled up with personal finances, the best you can hope for is that all involved won’t have it in mind when they spend time together and will be able just to enjoy one another’s company. But if you have to keep asking your friends for more installments, everyone is more likely to be thinking about it. That will lead to more uncomfortable conversations, strain the friendships and add to your financial stress.

So the simplest route is to ask just once, for the full amount that you need, thank your friends sincerely—and not mention it again until you can pay them back.

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Dear Dan,

Why would people rather believe a viral social-media post over credible scientific information?

—Efrat 

Because we are cognitively lazy and want simple answers.

A fuller explanation would also concede that academics and scientists bear some responsibility for the difficulty that some feel in taking our research at face value. We tend to write in technical jargon, to add endless qualifications to our findings and to insist that every topic needs to be studied further—all of which makes it hard for nonspecialists to take guidance from us.

As for posts on social media, their believability has to do with what psychologists call “social proof.” That is, we instinctively follow the herd, without realizing that we are doing it. The algorithms that social networks use are designed to exploit social proof and to get people to spend more time online. When a post becomes popular, the social networks promote it even more heavily, targeting users who are likely to be sympathetic, with the goal of maximizing their use of the network. Of course, that means that more people will see the popular post, pushing the chance of something going viral even higher.

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Dear Dan,

My son, a fourth-grader, recently had another child’s progress report placed in his box by accident. That made me wonder: If children were “accidentally” sent a fake report card, along with their own, for another kid who was making slightly better progress in school, would it motivate them to work harder?

—Paula 

I like the way you think—slightly devious but very creative. You’re also right. Giving people (children included) the sense that another person is doing better increases their motivation—so long as it’s only slightly better. Setting unattainable goals doesn’t work well, but offering a reachable one can be a useful goad.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.

Ask Ariely: On Interrupting the Internet, Involving Ideologies, and Admiring Air Travel

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,

We try to set boundaries on phone and computer use by our teenagers, who are supposed to stop using their devices by 9 p.m. But my husband stays on his phone long after that, researching vacations or kitchen appliances—which, to my mind, is a clear double standard. Am I right?

—Tina 

I’m with you: Setting a bad personal example isn’t a great way to encourage good behavior in your teens. I would pressure your husband to be a better role model.

Or you could just turn off the Wi-Fi router after 9 p.m., which would guarantee that nobody could go online. It is hard to resist temptation when giving in is so easy—in this case, when the internet is just a click away. By creating roadblocks, even small ones like turning a router back on, we can create a natural pause for reflection that should encourage better decisions.

The only downside is that, with all the free time your husband will now have, he might want to spend it with you. Are you ready for this?

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Dear Dan,

How can some people see global warming as a huge crisis facing humanity while others dismiss it as a big red herring? Why do Republicans and Democrats reach such different conclusions reading the same data? Can ideologies really lead to such strong biases in the way that we look at the world?

—Rachel 

Ideology can easily color our views, even on scientific data. In much the same way that Israelis and Palestinians can see the same clash and place the blame entirely differently, so too can political ideology taint almost everything we experience. And, of course, people with different ideologies don’t read the same information: We largely pick the information outlets that support our initial beliefs, making it even easier to become convinced that we are correct.

This sort of biased interpretation of data isn’t the end of it, though. As Troy Campbell and Aaron Kay showed in a 2014 paper in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, “an aversion to the solutions associated with the problem” can color our view of the problem itself.

When the researchers exposed participants to solutions to global warming based on more government regulation, those who supported free-market ideologies were much less likely to acknowledge the hazards of climate change. On the other hand, when the researchers proposed solutions based on less government regulation and more autonomy for private enterprise, these same participants were much more likely to see the dangers of global warming.

That suggests one way forward: Don’t just shove more data in peoples’ faces and ask them why they won’t face up to reality, but work on solutions that align with a wide variety of ideologies.

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Dear Dan,

I fly a lot for work, and my annoyance with air travel is rising all the time. These days, I get upset the night before a flight just from knowing I have to head for the airport the next day. What can I do to reduce my distaste for flying?

—David 

Learn more about the physics of flying and the complexity of the operational side of managing a large airline. We are quick to take things for granted. We get wondrous new technologies such as Google and quickly stop being impressed; we get clean, running water in our homes and stop being amazed. By reminding yourself every time you get to an airport about the marvels of flight and the difficulty of running a big transportation company, you will focus on the full experience—and enjoy it much more.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.

How Does Pocket Ariely Make Sense of Life?

Check it out at: http://danariely.com/pocket-ariely/

Have you ever been in a situation where you could really use my help? How about putting away that last cupcake? Or saving that extra dollar for retirement? Maybe getting things done at work without draining all your time and energy? Or, maybe, you just need to spend less time giving out likes and more time nourishing your brain with food for thought?

I know I’ve felt that way, and chances are… so have you.

I want to introduce you to Pocket Ariely, a digital library of my most relevant work in behavioral economics and the best cheat sheet to life’s most difficult issues in Finance, Health, Productivity, Morality, Romance, and so much more. With Pocket Ariely, you can access videos, podcasts, articles, and even games that will prepare you to make sense of life through social science insights.

What’s more, all profits from Pocket Ariely will be put toward the research being conducted at my lab, the Center for Advanced Hindsight at Duke University. With your help, we will continue to advance the blossoming field of behavioral economics and continue the process of showing the world how irrational humans can be (sometimes), and ways to fix it.

The app is not free, but think about the monthly (weekly? daily?) $5 you spend on a Venti Caramel Macchiato at Starbucks, and skip one every other month in the name of science (your waistline will thank you too!). I promise you that we will keep working hard on some of humanity’s most pressing issues all for the cost of the occasional cup of Joe. Not a bad deal huh?

Download Pocket Ariely now

from the App Store and Google Play Store.

 

Irrationally yours,

Dan

Ask Ariely: On Coin Conundrums, Reading Realizations, and Ice-Breaking Ideas

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,

A chain of coffee shops in Israel, where I live, had tremendous success charging a flat price of five shekels (about $1.35) for coffee and other items on its menu. People would get coffee and often a muffin or something else to eat. Now the chain has raised the flat price at its cafes to six shekels, and suddenly my friends don’t go anymore. Why?

—Ron 

Some time ago, Unilever entered several markets in India and Africa, offering tiny amounts of products such as soap or milk in packages that were small and inexpensive. The company found that it could do well selling these products so long as the price for them matched the smallest coin then circulating in the economy

For example, as long as people in Kenya were buying a small portion of milk for 10 shillings, they would purchase a lot of it. But when the cost increased even a smidgen over the value of the smallest local coin, sales dropped dramatically.

I suspect that your coffee shop is suffering for the same reason. In Israel, the five-shekel coin is widely used, and though Israel has smaller coins, the same general principle probably applies: People are more inclined to buy items that are priced on the scale of familiar, low-denomination coins.

When something costs the same as a coin, we can categorize the purchase as cheap and not think too much about it. But the moment something costs more than a single coin, we start thinking more carefully about whether or not we want to buy it.

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Dear Dan,

I turned 40 this year, and it is harder and harder for me to read text on my cellphone. Why did cellphone companies start reducing the font sizes on our phones?

—Ayelet 

It’s clearly a conspiracy among evil conglomerates. The cellphone companies are joining forces with the eyeglasses companies to persuade those of us over 40 that our eyesight is deteriorating and we need to purchase buy new glasses.

On the other hand, it may be that sometimes we just don’t want to acknowledge certain conclusions or get certain answers (that we are spending more than we should, that we are getting older and so on). In such cases, people turn out to have a startling ability for self-delusion, even when the desire not to acknowledge the truth in the short term can hurt us in the long term.

So maybe you should try to adopt eyeglasses as a fashion statement and use them to express your new, somewhat older and increasingly excellent self. (And happy birthday!)

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Dear Dan,

I’m going to host a party soon with some old and new friends, and I want to do something to break the ice. Any advice?

—Moran 

In such situations, I find it very useful to start the evening by declaring that the event will operate under Las Vegas rules: What happens at the party stays at the party. Next I tell people that sharing embarrassing stories is a wonderful way to get to know one another. Finally, I get things going by sharing one about myself.

To give you the feel for it, here is the shortest such story anyone has ever shared with me: “I’m going on a blind date. I knock on the door. A woman opens it. I ask, ‘Is your daughter home?’ The door closes. I turn around and leave.”

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.

Ask Ariely: On Financial Feelings, Polling Places, and Meaningless Messages

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,

Why is society structured around the accumulation of wealth? Is this part of human nature, and is it the best way to achieve happiness?

—Annie 

Most of us believe that more money brings more happiness—and the wealthy are no exception. In a 2014 survey of very wealthy clients at a large investment bank, Mike Norton of Harvard Business School asked clients how happy they were and how much money would make them really happy.

Regardless of the amount they already had, they responded that they’d need about three times more to feel happy. So people with $2 million thought they could achieve happiness if they had $6 million, while those with $6 million saw happiness in having $18 million, and so on. This kind of thinking changes, of course, as people get more money, with happiness in reach at a level that is some multiple more than what they already have.

Although people predict that money strongly influences happiness, researchers also find that the actual relationship between wealth and happiness is more nuanced. In 2010 Daniel Kahneman and Angus Deaton analyzed data from over 450,000 responses to a daily survey of 1,000 U.S. residents by the Gallup Organization. They found that money does influence happiness at low to moderate levels of income. Real lack of money leads to more worry and sadness, higher levels of stress, less positive affect (happiness, enjoyment, and reports of smiling and laughter) and less favorable evaluations of one’s own life. Yet most of these effects only hold for people who earn $75,000 a year or less. Above about $75,000, higher income is not the simple ticket to happiness that we think it is.

Together, these studies show that we need far less money than we think to maximize our emotional well-being and minimize stress. This means that accumulating wealth isn’t about the pursuit of happiness—it’s about the pursuit of what we think (wrongly) will make us happy.

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Dear Dan,

When I voted this morning in the U.K. general election (at a polling station in a church) I realized that the choice of venue may impact electoral decisions. Most polling stations in my area are in either a community center or a church, which may have mental associations for voters (for example, church=conservative/right; community center=community/social responsibility/left). I was wondering if you have ever looked at this phenomenon.

—Zaur 

Your intuition is absolutely right. In a 2008 paper published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Jonah Berger of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and colleagues showed that Arizona voters assigned to vote in schools were more likely to support an education funding initiative. In a follow-up lab experiment, Mr. Berger also showed that even viewing images of schools makes people more supportive of tax increase to fund public schools.

In other words, the context for voting certainly changes how we look at the world and what decisions we make.

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Dear Dan,

People I meet sometimes ask me for my email address. On one hand, I want to keep in touch with those who are truly interested in friendship, but on the other, I don’t want to have a million meaningless exchanges. How can I get email only from people who are truly invested in real discussions?

—Ron 

The problem is that email is too easy to send—it just takes a few seconds—while the person getting it on the other side might have to spend a lot of time responding to a particular message or to their email in general. My answer? Get a complex email address that takes some time to type. With this added effort you will get emails only from the people who are really interested in contacting you.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal.