Ask Ariely: On Money Management, Temper Tantrums, and Retirement Rank

June 9, 2018 BY danariely

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.


Hi, Dan.

I work as the managing director at a small nonprofit with 10 full-time staffers. I recently learned that one of the senior program directors, with a position junior to mine, makes nearly $15,000 a year more than I do. He consistently gets poor performance reviews and has done little fund-raising to keep our organization running. He’s also a white man (I am a woman of Middle Eastern descent) and about 30 years older than I. Should I say something to my boss about this? My salary is decent after all, and the job market is tough.


In general, it’s not only our own salary but also how much our colleagues are paid that makes us happy or unhappy with what we’re earning. Having an unproductive subordinate earning more than you would annoy anyone—and the feeling will probably grow over time. With this in mind, you should ask your boss for an explanation. Maybe you’ll find that your colleague is getting paid more for a good reason, or that your organization will fix the inequity between the salaries—or that you are going to be happier elsewhere.


Hi, Dan.

My 5-year-old frequently throws temper tantrums when he doesn’t get his way. When we are in public (say, on the bus or train), I often give in to him to head off the screaming and my resulting embarrassment. After each incident, he promises to behave better, but his tantrums just seem to escalate. I think he’s being manipulative. What can I do?


You’ve got what sounds like a garden-variety tantrum problem. I think that your son is just being a child and trying to fulfill his goals. Since you are teaching him that when he screams, you give him what he wants, he will continue that strategy until it stops working. This kind of conditioning strongly influences children—and the rest of us to some extent. The solution is to not give in to the screaming, while also making clear that you’re far more likely to yield when your son communicates calmly. Changing the conditioning will take time and expose a lot of innocent bystanders to screaming, but in the long run it will be worth it.


Dear Dr. Ariely,

My wife has retired, but I’m still working at age 71, and we live with some difficulty from paycheck to paycheck. I don’t touch the more than $1 million in my retirement fund. Technically, I’m a millionaire, but I don’t behave like one. Should I start thinking of myself as wealthy and act accordingly?


Yes, you should. Since I am hoping that you and your wife will live a long life, I am not advising you to go on a spending spree. At the same time, it might be useful for you to think of yourself as having a higher socioeconomic status. A study published in the journal Health Psychology in 2000 by Nancy E. Adler and colleagues showed that subjective socioeconomic status (i.e., where people ranked themselves relative to others) was more predictive of physical health and psychological well-being than actual socioeconomic rank. So while I don’t think that you should start spending like a millionaire, it may help to think of yourself as one.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.