Ask Ariely: On Gifting Gratitude and Requesting Reply

November 20, 2021 BY Dan Ariely

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.


Dear Dan,

A friend of mine who is much wealthier than I am invited me to go to her summer house in Europe this spring. I would love to go, but I don’t want her to think that our friendship is contingent on this vacation or to feel trapped with me as her travel companion. Plus, I’m not sure how I could express my gratitude, since any gift I could afford would pale in comparison. What should I do?


Let me get you to think about the first part of this question in three ways.

First, put yourself in your friend’s shoes and ask yourself how you would feel. I suspect that you would not have invited someone as your travel companion if you felt trapped by them. This isn’t an easy exercise, but I find that it is useful in thinking about our approach to relationships and favors.

Second, we experience money in relative, not absolute, terms. So a vacation that seems expensive to you might not seem expensive to your friend. Again, think about the vacation from her point of view.
Finally, friendships are complex, and people bring lots of things to a friendship, including kindness, support, a sense of humor, love and curiosity. Money is only one of those many things. What do you bring to your friendship? Money might not matter much to your friend—but she might really envy your trip-planning abilities, for example, or value your advice in complex family matters.

As for gratitude, saying thanks has a magic effect on the giver, so don’t sweat the exact method of saying thanks too much, and just say it a few times. Try to say it at least once while you are on vacation and at least once a few weeks after you are back.


Dear Dan,

My boss is a night owl, and I often wake up to a barrage of emails. But I don’t like starting off my day feeling like I’m behind and having the urge to check work email before I even get out of bed. How can people working at different hours respect each other’s time?


When we receive an email, we tend to assume that the content is top of the sender’s mind and requires an urgent response. This assumption is often misguided.

I tested this bias on myself by asking people who emailed me via my website to tell me how urgently they needed my response. I gave them a pull down menu with options that ranged from “drop everything and answer me now” to “by the end of the day” to “by the end of the week,” to “by the end of the month,” and I also added an option I was most curious about, which was “no response necessary.” It was surprising to me how many emails were in the “no response necessary” category (about 20%) and more surprising how few emails were in the “drop everything and answer me now” category (about 2%).

With this in mind, maybe ask everyone in your company to add something to urgent emails (say, !!!) and to ones where no response is necessary (maybe ***). This way the senders can mitigate confusion by being explicit about their expectations, which should make the urgency bias go away.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal.