DAN ARIELY

Updates

Ask Ariely: On Manipulating Motivation and Stopping Scrolling

March 26, 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.

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Dear Dan,

I’ve been struggling to get to the gym and posted about my frustration on social media. I was inundated with support and people sharing anecdotes about what worked to keep them motivated. With so many different strategies offered up, how do I figure out which one works the best?

—Joachim

Social scientists also find it hard sometimes to sort through multiple findings on a topic to identify the key results. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have confronted this problem by conducting mega-studies, using thousands of participants and testing multiple different ideas for achieving a single result.

One of their megastudies addressed your question: The researchers tested 53 different approaches to increasing exercise as measured by the frequency of gym visits among 61,000 people. The approaches ranged from reminders, rewards and pledges to keeping a journal, framing exercise as fun and sharing workouts on social media. About half of these tactics worked to increase gym visits. One of the best-performing approaches was to offer people 9 cents in reward points if they returned to the gym after missing a planned workout. These “micro-rewards” increased gym visits by 16%.

Based on these findings, your best bet would be to combine a few of the successful strategies: Start by setting a reasonable workout schedule. Next, add reminders on your phone. Finally, plan small rewards for yourself for keeping to your schedule and also for going back to the gym if you miss a planned workout.

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Dear Dan,

I have tried to spend less time on my phone and on social media, but every time I intend to check just one new message a friend sent me, I end up going down a social media rabbit hole, scrolling through one post after another. Why does this happen to me?

—Kade 

Social media platforms are designed to maximize the time we spend on them. One reason they do this so effectively is that once we start consuming a certain type of content, our appetite for it increases.

In one study researchers asked participants to watch music videos. Half of the participants watched five different music videos, while the other half watched only one. The participants were then asked whether they would like to watch an additional music video or switch to a different task. You might have guessed that those who had already watched five videos would be tired of doing so and ready to move on to something else, but the researchers found the opposite: The participants who had already watched five videos were more likely to choose to watch more than the participants who had watched only one.

This is a case where the old saying is certainly true: If we don’t make a decision, someone else will make it for us. So if you want to take control of the time you spend on social media, you’ll need to take an active role—for example by setting a timer for 15 minutes, or only starting to look at social media 15 minutes before a meeting, so that you know when you’ll have to stop.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal.

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.

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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?

—Amos 

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.

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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?

—Gus 

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.

Ask Ariely: On Enchanting Eateries and Sweet Strategies

February 27, 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.

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Dear Dan,

I travel a lot for work, and I’m keen on finding great places to eat in the cities I visit. Normally I use an app and narrow down my options based on ratings. But while I’ve found a lot of good meals this way, I haven’t found so many great ones. How would you suggest finding the best eateries on the road?

—Loran 

Restaurant ratings are a good place to start, as they can point out places to avoid. But they are not as helpful when it comes to narrowing down the best choices, because when people give good reviews, they don’t like to say anything negative, which makes it hard to differentiate the very good restaurants from the really great ones. Researchers found that about 80% of online restaurant reviews were four or five stars.

This positivity bias makes the star ratings useless for your purpose. But the researchers did find a better predictor of quality in the emotionality of the comments. For example, you might look for reviews that use demonstrative words, such as “enchanting,” instead of the more anodyne “excellent” to describe the experience.

Still, the best option is probably to ask someone who knows the city, such as a concierge. The wisdom of one well-informed local can often beat the wisdom of the crowd.

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Dear Dan,

I’m trying really hard to cut back on sweets, but I always slip up. My friends tell me I shouldn’t be too hard on myself, but I’m worried that if I’m too forgiving of my bad choices, I’ll keep making them. Which approach will better help me get on track? Should I be hard on myself or not?

—Leah 

Thinking about how best to recover from setbacks is an important part of goal planning. If we are very forgiving of our failures, we might never feel the need to try harder. On the other hand, if we are very harsh on ourselves, we may give up on our goal completely. This is a Goldilocks situation, in which we must find the moderate level of both criticism and forgiveness that is just right.

A recent study bears out this observation. People in a weight loss program reported how they felt about themselves after a lapse. The researchers found that those who felt great about themselves after backsliding struggled to get back on track. So, too, did those who felt very negatively about themselves. The people likeliest to re-engage with their goals turned out to be those who were moderately self-critical.

So maybe your friends are correct, and you shouldn’t be so hard on yourself. At the same time, however, you should not be too easy on yourself. Mix it up a bit. After a slip-up, maybe start in a non-forgiving mode and take a moment to consider what led to the lapse and how it could be prevented. Then, once you have soaked in these feelings for a bit, forgive yourself.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal.

Ask Ariely: On Concerning Crowds and Sensitive Stories

February 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.

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Dear Dan,

I own a small comedy club, and we’ve struggled with ticket sales during the pandemic, even as restrictions have been eased. Last weekend, for the first time in a while, we sold out a show and had a long line out the door. I wanted to post a picture on social media, but I was worried that the image of a crowd might put off potential patrons. Is this a reasonable concern?

—Juan 

You are contrasting two social forces and asking which is stronger: the power of norms (everyone is going to your club!) or the fear of gathering in crowds.

A study conducted in China in 2020 sheds some light on your dilemma. The study found that 37% more people dined out when they were told that their neighbors were also doing so. The researchers noted that in an atmosphere of uncertainty, information about what other people were doing (a descriptive norm) weighed heavily. Without the uncertainty, however, the descriptive norm made little difference: The researchers told subjects that all their neighbors were doing something considered to be perfectly safe (visiting a park), to virtually no effect.

In your case, I suspect that the picture showing people lined up for your club would be appealing. You could also add reassuring information, like noting the improvements in local Covid conditions or the precautions your club is taking to protect patrons, such as mask requirements and proof of vaccination.

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Dear Dan,

I’m a journalist at a small newspaper serving a community that is largely non-white and low income. I proposed doing a story about the environment, but the editorial board is concerned that this topic won’t resonate with our readers. How should I proceed?

—Loo 

The perception that Americans of color and those with low incomes care less about the environment than white Americans may be common, but it is both patronizing and false.
In a 2018 study, researchers asked Americans how concerned they were—and how concerned they thought a variety of other people were—about environmental issues. Most respondents thought that young people, white people and women were the most worried about the environment. But in reality, Latino, Asian, Black and low-income Americans reported being the most concerned.

Why might these communities be particularly concerned about the environment? To begin with, they are disproportionately likely to live in neighborhoods with high levels of pollution, little green space and high concentrations of waste sites. Daily exposure to environmental risks may raise awareness and concern among Americans of color and those with low incomes.

So your editorial board is most likely wrong. To help such a story resonate with your readership—and to correct misperceptions around the issue—you might consider reporting your story in a way that reflects the ethnic and economic diversity of those who are concerned about the environment.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal.

Ask Ariely: On Unraveling Uncertainty and Translating Transparency

January 29, 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.

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Dear Dan,

I play the lottery every week even though I know that the chances of winning are extremely small. Why do so many of us persist in doing this?

—Adam 

One reason that the lottery is so popular is that it provides uncertainty in a way that is appealing. We don’t normally like uncertainty: Not knowing if or when the pandemic is going to end, or whether to prepare for a winter storm, or what to do about climate change can foster a feeling of helplessness and decrease our motivation to act. But uncertainty about low-probability rewards can make us work harder.

In an experiment, participants were asked to drink six cups of water in two minutes. This is not easy to do. Half of the participants were told they would receive a certain reward ($2) if they achieved the goal, while the other half were told that if they succeeded, they’d receive either $1 or $2, to be determined by a coin toss after they’d finished. More participants in the second group managed to drink all six cups than in the first, suggesting that the uncertain reward was particularly motivating.
The same thing might be happening with the lottery. We get value from the uncertainty of winning, which piques our curiosity and stimulates our fantasies. We also get a psychological reward from seeing the uncertainty resolved, even though we are usually disappointed that the winning ticket wasn’t ours.
All the same, despite this minor benefit from the lottery, I’d recommend that you find other ways to improve your well-being.

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Dear Dan,

I own a small pet-sitting business and pay my employees a living wage—one that accounts for the real cost of food and shelter, which the minimum wage does not. Consequently, our prices are a little higher than those of our competitors, and I’m worried about finding and keeping clients. Do I need to rethink my business model?

—Leslie 

People are willing to pay higher prices when vendors are transparent about their operating costs. In your case, this means letting your clients know about your commitment to paying a living wage. I suspect that many will respond positively, and some of them will be willing to pay more for your services when they understand that they are supporting this business model. I recommend that you highlight your commitment in your marketing materials and social media, as well as on your invoices.

The benefit of cost transparency has been documented through studies. An online retailer conducted an inadvertent experiment when it posted an infographic on its website showing the cost of producing wallets. By accident, the retailer only showed the infographic for some wallet colors. The result was that sales of wallets with the infographic increased by 22% compared to those of wallets without.

In a more deliberate study, researchers posted different signs near the chicken noodle soup at a university dining hall—one listing the soup ingredients, the other breaking down the costs of making the soup. Customers were 21.1% more likely to buy the soup next to the second sign.
Voluntary transparency about costs fills customers in about what they’re paying and also signals trustworthiness on the part of the vendor.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal.

Ask Ariely: On Anticipating Allies and Perceiving Progress

January 15, 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.

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Dear Dan,

The majority of my colleagues at a computer engineering company are male, as am I. Gender equality is important to me, but I’m not in charge of the hiring decisions, so my power to change this situation is limited. Nevertheless, I want to do my share to make my workplace an inclusive and positive one for my female colleagues. Any advice?

—Charles 

You can start to set norms of gender equality in your organization by communicating how much you care about this issue and expressing your intention to support female colleagues. Studies show that doing so will make the women in your workplace feel not only more included but also less inclined to anticipate harassment and hostility.

Researchers in a series of studies asked women to imagine they had received job offers at a chemical company. The women then viewed slideshows of their future co-workers—in some cases, all men, and in others, a gender-balanced mix. Some women were asked to imagine that the company included an “ally”: a man who expressed support for gender equality and was willing to help promote it.

When the workplace was gender-balanced, the presence or absence of an ally made little difference to the job seekers. But when the company was male-dominated, the addition of the ally improved the women’s sense that their future co-workers would support them and decreased their anticipated degree of isolation. Interestingly, the findings held regardless of the race of the woman or the ally.

So if you want to make your workplace more inclusive, let your female colleagues know that you’re a ready and willing source of support.

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Dear Dan,

I’m mentoring a high-school student who is just starting to think about college. He attended an information session and came away overwhelmed by all the tasks he needs to complete. He’s feeling discouraged by the complexity and having a hard time getting started. What can I do to help motivate him?

—Hal 

The college admissions process can be overwhelming, and when we’re overwhelmed, it is hard to get going, because any step we might take feels trivial compared with what still lies ahead.

To counteract that drop-in-the-bucket feeling, it can help to change your perception of progress. A study demonstrated this idea through coffee purchases. Some customers were given 10-punch cards specifying that if they bought 10 cups of coffee, they would get one cup for free. Researchers found that as customers got closer to the free cup, they bought coffee more frequently. They also found that if they gave customers 12-punch cards, but with the first 2 punches premarked (effectively making them 10-punch cards), coffee-drinkers purchased their beverages faster. The sense that we are already moving forward helps motivate us to continue advancing toward our goals.

With this observation in mind, you should point out to your mentee all that he has accomplished already, including the time he has spent pursuing extracurricular activities, getting good grades and attending the information session. Suggest that these are steps he has completed in the college admissions process and that he just needs to take the next ones, one at a time.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal.

Ask Ariely: On Conversational Connection and Greater Gratitude

January 2, 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.

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Dear Dan,

I’ve mostly kept to my established circle of family and friends during the pandemic, but this New Year’s, my neighbors are hosting a get-together, and I’m very excited to attend. I’ll be meeting quite a few new people, and I’m nervous as to whether I can master the art of small talk after so many months without practice. Do you have any suggestions?

—Michelle 

Small talk is boring, and losing your facility with it may not be such a loss. What if you took advantage of this forced forgetting and tried to replace shallow pleasantries with something deeper? Most of us wish to have meaningful conversations in our daily lives but expect our exchanges with strangers to be awkward. They don’t have to be.

In an experiment, researchers paired up attendees at a small conference and gave each duo 10 minutes to discuss four questions. The questions were designed to bypass small talk and lead to greater connection—for example, “Can you describe a time you cried in front of another person?” After a few such questions and answers, the participants reported not feeling awkward at all—on the contrary, they came away feeling more connected to one another and happier than they had expected.
We underestimate how much potential conversation partners care about deep talk over superficialities, as well as how satisfying such exchanges can be. In fact, the deeper our conversations are on any given day, the happier we tend to be.

So when you go to the New Year’s Eve party, try not making small talk at all. Instead of inquiring about people’s days or their jobs, ask them what they are passionate about, or where they see themselves in a few years. Maybe even ask them about the last time they cried in front of another person.

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Dear Dan,

I know I should probably write thank you notes for the holiday gifts I received, but I’m bad at composing them. I end up wasting lots of note cards with rewrites that still end up sounding insincere. I’m starting to wonder if this endeavor is really worthwhile.

—Amit 

Keep going with your thank you notes! Expressing gratitude is incredibly worthwhile and easier than you think.

What you’re experiencing is a basic perspective-taking problem. Many people share your worry about finding the right words to express gratitude and about sounding sincere. People on the receiving end, however, value a thank you of any type and tend to pay more attention to the warmth of the note than the quality of the writing.

To study such “gratitude mis-calibrations,” researchers asked people to write thank you notes and then predict how they thought their expressions of gratitude would be received. Then they asked the actual recipients to report how the notes affected them. Senders predicted that recipients would experience an average happiness rating of three (on a scale of one to five), whereas the actual recipients rated their happiness at 4½.

Perhaps because we underestimate how happy our expressions of thanks make others, we let unnecessary concerns get in the way of conveying our gratitude. The best way to motivate ourselves to write thank you notes may be to experience receiving them—in which case, allow me to express my thanks to you for sending me this question.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.

Ask Ariely: On Delicious Decisions and Powerful Promotions

December 18, 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,

This Christmas, the entire family will be together for the first time in two years. I’m in charge of Christmas dinner, and I feel under pressure for everything to be perfect. I’m overwhelmed and exhausted by all the decisions: wine or eggnog, turkey or roast beef, mashed potatoes or roasted potatoes? Even thinking about decorations and napkins makes my head spin. What should I do?

—Bertha 

Sounds like you are suffering from choice overload. More options would intuitively seem better than none, but too many can produce anxiety and decrease happiness. In the most extreme cases, facing an excess of choices can lead to not making a choice at all.

The downside of choice was first demonstrated in a field study conducted more than twenty years ago. Upon entering a grocery store, customers encountered a stand offering jams to sample and purchase. On some days there were six jam flavors on offer; on others, 24. More people were attracted to the stand when 24 flavors were on display, but only a tenth as many ended up buying jam as when there were just six. When faced with too many choices, people worry about regretting a decision that isn’t perfect—and not making any decision is the simplest way to avoid making the wrong one.

As for Christmas dinner, one way to lift your decision-making burden is to crowdsource it—for example, by asking your friends on social media to make some of the decisions for you.

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Dear Dan,

This past year I’ve worked alongside a wonderful group of colleagues. I am so thankful to have worked on this team. I’ve just been promoted and will now be managing this same group. I worry that doing so will change my relationship with its members. Do you have any advice?

—Erika 

In your new role, make sure to continue to express gratitude toward your colleagues. Their support will be even more crucial to your success, and words of appreciation can go a long way in motivating people.

Sadly, research has shown that when people get more power, they tend to express less gratitude, even though more power might come with more to be grateful for, such as a higher salary. One study looked at the acknowledgement sections of academic papers and found that authors with high-ranking titles expressed less thanks than their junior counterparts did. A study of Wikipedia editors found the same effect: senior editors made fewer thankful comments than junior ones.

These results suggest a link between power and expressing less thanks, but they don’t rule out the possibility that more powerful authors and editors expressed less thanks because they received less help. A controlled lab experiment was very helpful in identifying the causal mechanism: participants were offered help on an annoying task from someone they were told was either their boss or their employee for the task at hand. As in the previous studies, people were less thankful for help from a subordinate than from their manager, perhaps because they felt entitled to help from a lower status worker.

People with more power are less prone to give thanks. Try to fight this tendency as you take on your new role with your old team.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal.

Ask Ariely: On Framing Fruit and Strategizing Streams

December 4, 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,

The only way I can get my kids to eat fruits and vegetables is to reward them for it, usually with screen time. My sister allows my nieces to eat as much fruit as they want, whenever they want. In fact, her family refers to fruit as “nature’s candy” (but trust me, her kids know the difference between a grape and a lollipop). So far, neither of these methods is working for my family particularly well, but does one sound more promising to you?

—Louisa 

Many parents use rewards to get children to do things they would otherwise resist, such as eating healthy foods. This approach might work in the short term, but over time it may cause children to resist fruits and vegetables even more, because they will view eating those foods only as means to a reward.

When it comes to framing fruit as candy, your sister is onto something. I might not go quite that far, but a related approach could be to limit fruit consumption in the same general way as candy consumption. A series of studies found that when children were told that they could have only a limited amount of a certain food, such as carrots, the kids not only preferred carrots to a more bountiful snack option but ate more carrots and enjoyed them more than kids who chose carrots over a snack in equal supply.

Studies with young children are tricky, so there could be many reasons behind these behaviors, but it seems that the fear of missing out is one important driver that gets us all to partake of items that are in short supply.

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Dear Dan,

I’m very environmentally conscious and try to minimize my carbon footprint wherever possible. Working from home has been wonderful for many reasons. I’m especially happy to see fewer people driving. Do you have any other suggestions for how we can curb our environmental impact while confined to our homes?

—Kelsey 

When we think of addressing big problems, such as environmental impact, it’s natural to look for big solutions, such as driving less, at the expense of multiple, smaller solutions that can add up over time. We tend to overlook easy things we can do that seem small or whose effects are not immediately clear.

For example, think about the carbon footprint associated with something as small as Internet usage. The electricity that powers data centers accounts for about 1% of global energy demand—and that figure does not even include these facilities’ land and water use. Video transmission is the biggest problem. A group of researchers studied the impact of online streaming and video-conferencing. They found that if a person streamed at high quality for four hours a day, switching to standard definition would reduce that person’s monthly carbon footprint by the same degree as reducing driving by 93 miles a month.

Of course, video streaming is just one example. Lots of small actions, such as turning the thermostat down a bit, keeping electronics for longer and making sure our tire pressure is set correctly can also make a difference, and we should consider these when we think about the changes we can make.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal.

Ask Ariely: On Gifting Gratitude and Requesting Reply

November 20, 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,

A friend of mine who is much wealthier than I am invited me to go to her summer house in Europe this spring. I would love to go, but I don’t want her to think that our friendship is contingent on this vacation or to feel trapped with me as her travel companion. Plus, I’m not sure how I could express my gratitude, since any gift I could afford would pale in comparison. What should I do?

—Liz 

Let me get you to think about the first part of this question in three ways.

First, put yourself in your friend’s shoes and ask yourself how you would feel. I suspect that you would not have invited someone as your travel companion if you felt trapped by them. This isn’t an easy exercise, but I find that it is useful in thinking about our approach to relationships and favors.

Second, we experience money in relative, not absolute, terms. So a vacation that seems expensive to you might not seem expensive to your friend. Again, think about the vacation from her point of view.
Finally, friendships are complex, and people bring lots of things to a friendship, including kindness, support, a sense of humor, love and curiosity. Money is only one of those many things. What do you bring to your friendship? Money might not matter much to your friend—but she might really envy your trip-planning abilities, for example, or value your advice in complex family matters.

As for gratitude, saying thanks has a magic effect on the giver, so don’t sweat the exact method of saying thanks too much, and just say it a few times. Try to say it at least once while you are on vacation and at least once a few weeks after you are back.

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Dear Dan,

My boss is a night owl, and I often wake up to a barrage of emails. But I don’t like starting off my day feeling like I’m behind and having the urge to check work email before I even get out of bed. How can people working at different hours respect each other’s time?

—Yohann 

When we receive an email, we tend to assume that the content is top of the sender’s mind and requires an urgent response. This assumption is often misguided.

I tested this bias on myself by asking people who emailed me via my website to tell me how urgently they needed my response. I gave them a pull down menu with options that ranged from “drop everything and answer me now” to “by the end of the day” to “by the end of the week,” to “by the end of the month,” and I also added an option I was most curious about, which was “no response necessary.” It was surprising to me how many emails were in the “no response necessary” category (about 20%) and more surprising how few emails were in the “drop everything and answer me now” category (about 2%).

With this in mind, maybe ask everyone in your company to add something to urgent emails (say, !!!) and to ones where no response is necessary (maybe ***). This way the senders can mitigate confusion by being explicit about their expectations, which should make the urgency bias go away.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal.