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Ask Ariely: On Making Memories, Besting Burnout, and Crafting Compliments

January 9, 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.

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Dear Dan,

Whenever my mother visits us, she’s preoccupied with taking photos of her grandchildren so that she can remember every moment. Having her camera in our faces all the time is annoying, but I don’t want to deprive her of good memories when the visit ends. Should I try to convince her to stop taking pictures?

—Barbara 

Now that most of us carry a phone with a camera all the time, it’s hard to resist the temptation to document every significant moment in photographs. But it turns out that taking pictures all the time isn’t just annoying; it can make it more difficult to remember the very experiences the photos are intended to capture.

In one experiment, pairs of visitors took a tour of a historic landmark. One person in each pair was instructed to take photos and the other was told not to. A few weeks later they were given a surprise memory test about the landmark, and it turned out that the visitors who took photos remembered much less than those who didn’t. While the photographers were preoccupied with trying to get the best shot, the nonphotographers were able to think about the experience and absorb it into the structure of their memories.

With this in mind, try asking your mother to experiment with leaving her camera at home next time she visits. She might find that this allows her to spend more time really interacting with the grandchildren, leaving her with memories that are more vivid and meaningful than any photos.

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Dear Dan,

After a long holiday vacation, I thought I would return to work re-energized. But after just a few days back I’m already feeling burned out again. What can I do?

—Nathaniel 

You might think that the more time you spend away from the office, the more refreshed you’ll feel when you return. But research shows that the length of a vacation plays only a small part in how you feel when you go back to work. What matters most are the conditions you’re coming back to. If you feel unappreciated or powerless, or that your work environment is unfair, frustration and unhappiness can come back very quickly. If you want to fight burnout, don’t take more time away from work. Think instead about ways to address these underlying issues.

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Dear Dan,

My fiancé is an excellent cook, and every meal he makes for us is delicious. I’m always giving him compliments, but I worry that over time they will be less meaningful because he’ll get used to them. How can I continue to praise his cooking in a way that shows I mean it?

—Sydney 

I wouldn’t worry too much about your fiancé getting used to your compliments. Research shows that receiving compliments is very motivating and that people who give them usually underestimate their impact on the recipient. One study that looked specifically at frequent compliments found they didn’t lose their effectiveness as long as they weren’t identical each time. So keep the compliments coming, but make sure to switch them up from time to time.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.