Ask Ariely: On Pandemic Plans, Big Birthdays, and Appraisal Agreements

November 14, 2020 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,

The holidays are right around the corner, but I’ve been hesitating to make plans to visit family or host a party. The changing Covid-19 situation means that any plan I make is likely to change or fall through, and I could end up really disappointed. Am I right that it’s better to wait and see what happens closer to Thanksgiving?


It’s perfectly understandable that you’re wary about making plans. Many of the things we looked forward to in 2020 were disrupted by the pandemic, leaving us with a long list of disappointments. Nevertheless, making plans is important: It gives us something to look forward to, which is useful and important in itself. Instead of doing nothing, then, why don’t you make plans with built-in contingencies.

For example, you could invite a small group of guests for an outdoor potluck on Thanksgiving, and say that if the weather is too cold or people are unwell, you’ll arrange a way to donate the food to the needy. We might end up not having the holiday we hoped for this year, but in general people can bounce back from a change in plans much more easily than we can deal with uncertainty about the future.


Dear Dan,

I’m about to turn 60, and I’ve noticed that lately I’ve been doing things that are out of character for me. Last month I even signed up for a 5K race, even though I’ve never been a runner. Do you think this could be some kind of avoidance mechanism, so I won’t have to think about my big birthday?


We get older every day, yet some birthdays carry more weight than others. Researchers have found that at the start of a new decade of life, people tend to search for new sources of meaning. Often this means taking on new challenges or doing other things that break their normal pattern of life, such as having an extramarital affair. So all things considered, running a 5K race sounds like one of the most positive ways you can respond to turning 60.


Dear Dan,

When my parents died, they left their house to me and my siblings. I would really like to live in the house, so I offered to pay my brother and sister for their share. We got appraisals of the house’s value from multiple real-estate agents, but they each gave different estimates and my siblings and I can’t reach an agreement on how much it’s really worth. Do you have any thoughts on how to resolve the situation?


The problem here is that real-estate agents are often mistaken when they price a houses, so you and your siblings aren’t sure which estimate to trust. So let the market determine the house’s value instead. Put it on the market for a set time-frame, such as three months, and see what’s the highest offer you get. Then you can decide if you want to sell the house or pay your siblings at that value. With this method, no one will feel like they have been cheated out of their fair share.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal.