In an episode of “The Office,” Michael Scott takes on the role of matchmaker at a Valentine’s Day party. In an attempt to fix geeky Eric up with awkward Meredith, he helpfully points out their similarities: “So, Eric, you mentioned before that you are in Tool & Die Repair. Meredith recently had a total hysterectomy, so that’s sort of a repair. [uncomfortable silence] Alright, I’ll let you guys talk.”
Like Michael, most of us have made matches between people, from grabbing two strangers by the arm at a party and introducing them to each other to mediating preexisting romantic interests. Michael Norton of Harvard Business School and I wondered about the nature of this common behavior: why do people like to be matchmakers? Is it a desire to be popular, to fulfill social goals or to have an instrumental role in social networks? In our newest paper* that is being published in Social Psychological and Personality Science this month, we show that it is simpler than that: people get a happiness boost from matching others!
We explored the impact of matchmaking behavior on happiness in different non-romantic scenarios. After being asked to make matches, our participants reported that they were happier post-matchmaking. We measured their happiness with a 7-point scale (1: very unhappy to 7: very happy) and examined their persistence in matchmaking (“would you like to make another match?”)
We first looked at whether people get a happiness boost when they make any type of match (à la Michael Scott). We found that matchmakers are happier when they make matches between two people they actually think will get along rather than on a random dimension such as looking alike. Furthermore, people enjoy matching those who are least likely to know each other; introducing a banker colleague to an artsy cousin makes people happier than introducing two philatelist co-workers from their workplace.
Another important dimension in matchmaking, of course, is the actual success of these matches. Do people still feel happy even when their matchmaking ends with a dating horror story rather than a happy marriage? When asked to think about previous matchmaking experiences, participants who recalled making a successful match (e.g., “my mom got along very well with my emo friend”) reported a happiness boost while failed matches (e.g., “my neighbor made my aunt uneasy”) was actually costly for well-being.
Though Michael Scott is rather hopeless at bringing lonely hearts together, given our findings we would recommend that he continue with his efforts but change his strategy; stay away from random introductions, match people who have a low likelihood of meeting but would enjoy each other’s company and aim for the matches to work out. Fewer awkward silences and happier matchmakers guaranteed.
*Anik, Lalin and Michael I. Norton, “Matchmaking promotes happiness,” Social Psychological and Personality Science. Prepublished February, 10, 2014.
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.
I have worked very hard for most of my life, and I am getting to feel more secure and comfortable. But I don’t feel as happy as I expected, given all my achievements and financial success. I am not one of those hippies who think that money is not important, but it feels like something is missing. What am I doing wrong?
Don’t worry. The fact that your financial achievements have not brought you contentment does not mean that you’re a hippie. Social scientists have long been troubled by the finding that people basically think money will bring them happiness but it does so less than they expect.
There are two possibilities: First, that money cannot buy happiness. Second, that money can buy some happiness, but people just don’t know how to use it that way. The good news is that this seems to be the correct answer.
In their fascinating book “Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending,” Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton say there are two ways to get more happiness out of our money. The first is to buy less stuff and more experiences. We buy a sofa instead of a ski trip, not taking into account that we will get used to the sofa very quickly and that it will stop being a source of happiness, while the vacation will likely stay in our minds for a long time.
Second, and more interesting, Drs. Dunn and Norton demonstrate that we just don’t give enough money away. Which of these would make you happier: buying a cup of fancy coffee for yourself, buying one for a stranger, or buying one for a good friend? Buying a cup of coffee for yourself is the worst. Buying for a stranger will linger in your mind and make you happier for a longer time, and buying for a friend is the best—it would also increase your social connection, friendship and long-run happiness.
So money can buy happiness—if we use it right.
I’m going to an out-of-town concert next month with friends and, as usual, I ended up organizing everything, booking a hotel room and fronting the money. When I’ve done this with groups in the past, I always end up spending the most on shared expenses, because they are never divided up evenly.
Perhaps I’m afraid to ask for large amounts of money, even though these are the true expenses that should be shared by everybody. What can I do to make sure that the bill for this upcoming show is split fairly?
This is a question, in part, of how much you care about splitting the expenses evenly and how much responsibility you’re willing to take to improve the situation. I assume you’re willing to take this responsibility, so I suggest that you collect money from everyone in advance and pay all bills from this pool of money (and add 20% just in case, because we often don’t take all contingencies into account).
This way, everyone will pay the same amount, and bill-splitting will never come up. If there’s extra money, keep it for next year, or buy everyone a small gift to better remember the vacation.
I have sometimes found myself walking behind a woman at night in an unsafe place and going in the same direction. Even though there is some distance between us, I can feel the doubt and worry in her mind. How do I handle this situation? Should I stop or say something? I have places to be, too, but clearly I don’t want the woman to feel unsafe.
Simply pick up your cell phone and call your mother. In the world of suspicion, nobody who calls his mother at night could be considered a negative individual.
See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.