Ask Ariely: On Passionate Presents, Curious Compulsions, and Happiness Hints

May 27, 2017 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.


Dear Dan,

Before we got married four years ago, my husband and I would give each other amazing, thoughtful birthday gifts. After we got married and set up a joint bank account, our birthday presents stopped being exciting or original—and recently, they stopped altogether. Now we just buy things we need and call them gifts. Is this deterioration because of the shared bank account, or is it just the story of marriage?


Some of it, of course, is how marriage changes us once we’ve settled down. But the shared bank account is also important here, and that part is simpler to change.

In giving a gift, our main motivation is to show that we know someone and care for them. When we use our own money to do this, we are making a sacrifice for the other’s benefit. When we use shared money, this most basic form of caring is eliminated. We are simply using common resources to buy the other person something for common use—which greatly mutes a gift’s capacity to communicate our caring.

The simplest step to restore some excitement to your gifts is to set up a small individual account for each of you for your own discretionary spending. The longer, harder discussion is how to get marriages to sustain passion longer.


Dear Dan,

I recently started investing in the stock market. I know that people who manage to outperform the market buy stocks and then don’t look at their performance for a very long time. But I can’t stop looking at my portfolio every couple of hours. How can I keep myself from peeking so often?


Curiosity is a powerful drive, and it can lead us to expend time and effort trying to find out things that we’re better off not knowing. Curiosity also can create a self-perpetuating feedback loop, which is what you are experiencing: You think about the value of your portfolio, you become curious, you get annoyed by not knowing the answer, and you check your investments to satisfy your curiosity. Doing this makes you think about your stocks even more, so you feel compelled to monitor them ever more frequently—and then you’re really caught.

The key to getting a handle on this habit is to eliminate your curiosity loop. You can start by trying to redirect your thinking: Every time your mind wanders to your portfolio, try to busy it with something else, like baseball or ice cream. Next, don’t let yourself immediately satisfy your curiosity. For the next six weeks, check your portfolio only at the end of the day—or, better, only on Friday, after the markets have closed.

All of this should let you train yourself to not be so curious—and not to act on the impulse as frequently. Over time, the curiosity loop will be broken.


Dear Dan,

Have you found any small tricks you can use to make yourself happier?


At some point, I managed to record my wife saying that I was correct. That doesn’t happen very often. I made this recording into a ringtone that plays whenever she calls my cellphone.

This not only made me happy when I was able to get the initial recording but also provides me with continuous happiness every time she calls.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.