Ask Ariely: On Delicious Decisions and Powerful Promotions

December 18, 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,

This Christmas, the entire family will be together for the first time in two years. I’m in charge of Christmas dinner, and I feel under pressure for everything to be perfect. I’m overwhelmed and exhausted by all the decisions: wine or eggnog, turkey or roast beef, mashed potatoes or roasted potatoes? Even thinking about decorations and napkins makes my head spin. What should I do?


Sounds like you are suffering from choice overload. More options would intuitively seem better than none, but too many can produce anxiety and decrease happiness. In the most extreme cases, facing an excess of choices can lead to not making a choice at all.

The downside of choice was first demonstrated in a field study conducted more than twenty years ago. Upon entering a grocery store, customers encountered a stand offering jams to sample and purchase. On some days there were six jam flavors on offer; on others, 24. More people were attracted to the stand when 24 flavors were on display, but only a tenth as many ended up buying jam as when there were just six. When faced with too many choices, people worry about regretting a decision that isn’t perfect—and not making any decision is the simplest way to avoid making the wrong one.

As for Christmas dinner, one way to lift your decision-making burden is to crowdsource it—for example, by asking your friends on social media to make some of the decisions for you.


Dear Dan,

This past year I’ve worked alongside a wonderful group of colleagues. I am so thankful to have worked on this team. I’ve just been promoted and will now be managing this same group. I worry that doing so will change my relationship with its members. Do you have any advice?


In your new role, make sure to continue to express gratitude toward your colleagues. Their support will be even more crucial to your success, and words of appreciation can go a long way in motivating people.

Sadly, research has shown that when people get more power, they tend to express less gratitude, even though more power might come with more to be grateful for, such as a higher salary. One study looked at the acknowledgement sections of academic papers and found that authors with high-ranking titles expressed less thanks than their junior counterparts did. A study of Wikipedia editors found the same effect: senior editors made fewer thankful comments than junior ones.

These results suggest a link between power and expressing less thanks, but they don’t rule out the possibility that more powerful authors and editors expressed less thanks because they received less help. A controlled lab experiment was very helpful in identifying the causal mechanism: participants were offered help on an annoying task from someone they were told was either their boss or their employee for the task at hand. As in the previous studies, people were less thankful for help from a subordinate than from their manager, perhaps because they felt entitled to help from a lower status worker.

People with more power are less prone to give thanks. Try to fight this tendency as you take on your new role with your old team.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal.