Ask Ariely: On Career Callings and Extraordinary Experiences

March 12, 2022 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,

I’m really passionate about the well-being of animals. Unfortunately, the animal shelter I worked at recently closed, and I’m looking for new work that is equally fulfilling. But the search is taking a while, and my partner thinks I should just take a job that pays the bills. I’m really confused about what I’m looking for, not only in my job, but also in my relationship. What should I do?


The meaning of work differs greatly among people. Some attach deep purpose and meaning to their careers, which they see as a calling, while others view work merely as a means to earn a paycheck. Researchers refer to one’s place on this spectrum as a “calling orientation,” and since the time we spend at work is rather substantial, picking a career path that doesn’t match our orientation can have a substantial effect on our quality of life.

How our partner’s calling orientation aligns with our own can influence our job satisfaction. A team of researchers followed job seekers and their partners and found that the more widely calling orientation differed between partners, the more uncertain the job-seeking partners felt, the less energy they had to find work and the less successful they were in actually finding full-time employment after six months. A mismatch in calling orientation hurt the employed partners, too, making them less content with their own jobs than were those who were more aligned.

Talk to your partner and get clarity on your respective calling orientations. Discuss whether your differences in this area could affect your views of each other and your shared future. A mismatch in calling orientation doesn’t necessarily mean that you should break up, but recognizing the disparity may help you understand and respect the ways in which you are different.


Dear Dan,

On a flight for a recent business trip, a new member of my team was offered a free upgrade. He turned it down. Why in the world would someone pass that up?


Sitting in an upgraded cabin with more legroom and free drinks certainly sounds like the more enjoyable travel experience. But your co-worker might have decided that staying with the team was of greater importance, especially since he’s a new member. And maybe he was correct.

In 2014, researchers published a paper called “The Unforeseen Costs of Extraordinary Experience,” in which they showed that while certain experiences may themselves be amazing, they can also have a downside when they are not shared by everyone in a social group. The researchers found that when people who had amazing experiences recounted them to their social groups, they often suffered negative social consequences and sometimes ended up feeling worse than those who didn’t have the extraordinary experiences at all.

You certainly don’t have to turn down opportunities to have extraordinary experiences. But while traveling with a group of new colleagues, maybe your team-member had reason to be mindful of the trade-off between the lure of an upgrade and the possible social cost.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal.