Updates

Ask Ariely: On Mint Deficit, Beverage Behavior, and Focused Feelings

January 9, 2016 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,

Is it more important to floss or to brush?

—Ting 

It’s a tricky question. In terms of dental health, my understanding is that flossing is much more important than brushing—so if you had to pick one of the two, flossing should be your choice.

But we also need to consider which of these activities people are more likely to do. Here the answer is undoubtedly brushing. So even though flossing does more good for your mouth, brushing is what people are more likely to perform routinely, which makes it more important from a practical perspective.

The underlying issue is why we are so much more likely to brush than to floss. If we thought about our long-term well-being, we would floss regularly, but in dental care as in many other human endeavors, we often don’t act in ways that serve our enlightened self-interest. (We eat too much, save too little and so on.)

So why do we like to brush? In large part because the toothpaste industry has cunningly convinced us that to be socially acceptable, we must be minty fresh. Preoccupied as we are with our social standing, we wake up, feel the mint deficit in our mouths and immediately brush.

In essence, this is a case of “reward substitution.” The basic idea is that some actions just aren’t sufficiently motivating by themselves, so we create rewards for them that aren’t necessarily relevant but still get us to do what we’re supposed to.

Most of us brush not because we want to make sure that we have gleaming, healthy teeth in five, 10 or 30 years; we brush because we feel a socially driven need for that minty feeling right now. Brushing is really a delivery vehicle for mint. That is another reason we don’t floss: By the time we’re done brushing, we’ve got all the mint we need, and the hint of mint on the floss doesn’t add to our minty-ness.

So is flossing or brushing more important? I’d vote for brushing. It isn’t ideal, and we’re not doing it for the right reason, but at least we’re doing it.

______________________________________________________

Dear Dan,

How can I make myself wake up earlier? No matter how much I sleep at night, I can’t motivate myself to get out of bed on time. I just lie there and ignore any plans for my morning. Help!

—Diego 

This is another case where reward substitution can play a role, because you need a different incentive that is more motivating. How about promising yourself that if you get up at the right time, you’ll get a cup of fantastic coffee, but if you oversleep, you’ll only allow yourself to have terrible instant coffee—or even prune juice? You could draft your significant other to be the controller so you can’t cheat on your little pledge.

Remember, reward substitution bypasses our natural inclinations (lounging in bed) by getting us to do the right thing (waking up on time) for the wrong reason (for love of fine coffee and/or hatred of prune juice). It’s a handy recipe for better behavior in many areas of life.

______________________________________________________

Dear Dan,

My husband and I love each other deeply, but when we get home at night, we usually wind up on our computers until it is time for bed. How can we make ourselves have more romantic evenings?

—Helen 

Try having an eye exam with pupil dilation just before going home. For a few hours, you won’t be able to work or see anything clearly—and you will be forced to focus on your spouse. If this approach works, maybe you can simulate pupil dilation by promising to put on glasses with the wrong prescription as soon as you walk into the house.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.

Ask Ariely: Boss Behavior, Communal Correspondence, and Long-Term Love

November 28, 2015 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,

I’m having ongoing problems with my boss because of his leadership style: He is very rigid and formal, and he demands silent obedience from his workers. Should I rebel, recognize his authority or look for a new job?

—Ajaan 

This is really a question about the likelihood that your boss’s behavior can change. While I would like to be optimistic about the chances here, it is pretty difficult to get people to change in general—and it’s particularly difficult to be optimistic in your case.

Imagine a world in which you were the only person working for your boss. If you rebelled, that would immediately redefine the work environment, and your boss would be quite likely to adapt and change. By contrast, if your company has hundreds of employees, even an outright personal rebellion would make up only a small part of the feedback going up to your boss, leaving him unlikely to learn and change.

As such, if you think that you can get all of your fellow employees to start demanding better treatment, then you should try rebellion—but if you can’t get at least a critical mass of allies on board, move on.

One final point: Feeling in control and having some sense of autonomy are incredibly important aspects of fulfilling work. Any job that doesn’t give you these elements is going to chip away at your well-being and happiness. So when you look for your next gig, make sure that you get a job that gives you more than just a paycheck.

______________________________________________________

Dear Dan,

My wife and I have one email address for the two of us. Buddies from my soccer team often joke about our shared email address, calling me a sissy. Are they right? Should I convince my wife to get a separate email?

—Franz 

No—don’t change. I suspect that the notion that everybody should have their own email account emerged a long time ago when email was in its infancy—when we didn’t really know how we should be using it, let alone how it would grow and evolve. Over the years, email has become a vital, rich communications tool, but the notion of one email per person has remained our mental default setting—probably to the detriment of good communication.

You may have heard of an interesting new tech firm called Slack, which offers software to help groups of colleagues trade messages and share files. It could be, the Journal says, “the fastest-growing business application of all time”—and it is specifically designed to create shared communication between people in a manner similar to your shared-email approach. Slack’s popularity among high-tech companies suggests that you’re onto something.

I would tell your teammates that, rather than thoughtlessly accepting a default email habit, you’re ahead of your time—and that one day, they will catch up.

______________________________________________________

Dear Dan,

I’m dating a wonderful guy, but I wonder: What’s the thing that’s most likely to solidify our bond and turn it into a successful long-term relationship?

—Logan 

The best advice I can give about long-term couplehood is to find someone you admire and aspire to emulate in some important ways—and have them simultaneously feel the same way about you. With this starting point, you can spend the rest of your joint lives striving to improve and catch up. I’ve adopted this advice myself and can personally attest to how magical it can make one’s life.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.

Ask Ariely: On Beating a Breakup, The Food Fight, and Diesel Deception

October 3, 2015 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,

My boyfriend and I recently broke up, and the anguish and depression have been hard to bear. How can I cope with the feeling that my life has come to a halt?

—Inbal

In general, when we experience a strong emotion—whether it is anger, joy or grief—we tend to believe that it will stay with us for a very long time. In fact, time dulls the sensation far faster than we expect. The end of a relationship can be a terribly difficult life event, but studies show that people expect the pain of a broken heart to last much longer than it actually does.

One way to make things easier on yourself, while the agony subsides, is to change as many of your life patterns as possible so that you don’t constantly run into painful reminders of your ex.

Go to different restaurants and meet new people. If you can, take a trip to a place you’ve never visited before.

Breakups are one of the great universal human experiences. I wish that I had a simple silver-bullet solution for the pain they cause, but I don’t.

Personally, I think that enduring a difficult separation is an experience that we can learn from—and a way to increase our chances for doing better the next time around.

Maybe it would help to look at the pain as a byproduct of learning.

______________________________________________________

Dear Dan,

People today are far more aware of the dangers of obesity—we even hear about a public war on it. But we keep eating and eating. I certainly do, and I don’t know how to change. What’s our problem?

—Dror 

We aren’t focusing on the right things. We’re fighting the obesity epidemic by providing people with education and nutritional information—based on the assumption that knowledge will encourage us to make better decisions. But that’s not how people behave.

In an experiment led by my former Duke University colleague Janet Schwartz, our team went to a Chinese fast-food restaurant to try to see what effect providing nutritional information and calorie counts would have on diners. Some days, we placed that information next to each dish; other days we hid it.

The effect? Nothing. The knowledge that some dishes were much less healthy than others made no difference whatsoever on customers.

The British chef Jamie Oliver recently made a similar point. He showed children all the gross bird parts used to make their beloved chicken nuggets—bones, tendons, skin and worse—then ground the disgusting mix into a paste and fried it in breadcrumbs. When he took the nuggets out of the pan, the kids still all wanted to eat them.

If we forget what we’re eating so quickly, what hope does health education have?

The upshot, I’d argue, is that if we want to change eating behavior, we need to ditch the failed educational approach.

For example, instead of allowing people to buy a 64 oz. soda while providing them with calorie information that we hope will make them decide on a healthier option, why not simply limit the size from the start?

______________________________________________________

Dear Dan,

Volkswagen recently admitted to cheating on emissions tests in its diesel-powered cars. What’s your take?

—Maya

As the owner of a VW Golf myself (not diesel), I’m deeply offended by the company’s emissions fixing, and I haven’t been able to look at my car in the same way since. Time will tell whether we can patch up our relationship.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.

Ask Ariely: Firing Failures, Deceptive Deals, and Noisy Neighbors

September 5, 2015 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,

Is it smart to fire someone for failing? We often hear about politicians, generals and executives who blow it and then lose their jobs, but how can anyone gain experience if failure means their dismissal?

—Danny 

This problem is worse than you might think. Organizations that don’t tolerate failure not only stop their employees from learning from their mistakes but also create a risk-averse culture that fears trying anything new. A related problem is that organizations generally reward (and punish) people based on the outcomes of their decisions, not on the quality of their decisions. In general, you’d hope that good decisions would lead to good outcomes, but that causal link rests on probabilities, not certainties—so reward and punishment are often misapplied. Imagine, for example, the manager of a chain of seafood restaurants who invested in five new branches along the Gulf Coast—six months before the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The chain lost money, its share value plummeted, and the manager got sacked. But should he have been? What if the manager had meticulously analyzed the market and made the best decision given the information available at the time? Should the company have punished him—or rewarded him for making a sensible, thorough decision? Obviously, we should reward and retain people who know how to make good decisions, but most of the time, we just reward good outcomes. As long as organizations behave this way, we will be stuck with conservative, risk-avoiding behavior, and we will keep firing some of the wrong people.

______________________________________________________

Dear Dan,

My son wants a Nerf football. I found a real bargain online—just $2.50 on Amazon, but with a $7.50 shipping charge. The combined price of $10 is a really good deal, but paying three times as much for shipping as for the product itself seems like a rip-off. I know that what really matters is the total amount paid, but I somehow feel that the cost of delivery ought to matter too. Am I being irrational?

—Fay 

This is exactly why Amazon introduced Amazon Prime back in 2005. For only $99 a year, you get “free” shipping on your orders.  Of course, the shipping isn’t really free, but it gives you the feeling that you aren’t paying for it. One other clever aspect of Amazon Prime is that once you have paid for it, every additional purchase on Amazon further amortizes your investment, thereby helping you further justify your initial decision.

______________________________________________________

Dear Dan,

A friend of mine and her husband live in an apartment building, and their upstairs neighbors often have noisy sex between 3 and 8 a.m. My friend’s husband has no problem sleeping through the raucous romping, but my friend is being woken up every night. Should she let her neighbors know that their early morning love sessions aren’t as private as they might think (without embarrassing them or herself) so she can get her beauty sleep again?

—Kim

Maybe she could start with a compliment, explain the problem and offer a solution. How about, “I’m very impressed with your level of energy during the early hours of the day. How do you stay so passionate after so much time together? I’m a bit jealous.  And by the way, we got a heavy carpet for the bedroom to help give us more privacy.”

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.

Ask Ariely: On Denied Desserts, Trusted Faces, and Biased Brokers

August 22, 2015 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,

I’m a single guy in my early 30s, and I often take potential romantic partners out for dinner. When the question of dessert comes up, I’m never sure what to do. To be polite, I always ask my date if she’s interested in dessert, and the answer is almost always no. I then feel bad about ordering dessert myself, so I turn it down as well. Is it impolite to have dessert even if my date has decided not to?

—Lev 

It is most likely impolite not to order dessert. I’m basing that on two assumptions: first, that everyone enjoys at least a bit of dessert, and second, that your date may well be worried that, by ordering dessert, she would be signaling that she doesn’t care about her weight (which is a pity, of course, but it’s part of the reality of dating). With these assumptions in mind, I’d suggest that you ask her instead which dessert she loves most—and order one of those, with two spoons.

______________________________________________________

Dear Dan,

Lots of candidates are running for president. Some are proven liars, backstabbers or double-dealers; others are arrogant and self-important; still more break their promises. I wouldn’t want to hang around any of these people, but many Americans would vote for them. Don’t we care about honesty and trust?

—Daniel

Americans certainly care about trust—but in a slightly different way than you might think. We often care most about the trustworthiness of candidates’ faces.

Alex Todorov, a Princeton psychology professor, has done some wonderful experiments on this topic. In one, he showed some Princeton undergraduates pictures of people running for local office in Canada and asked them to rate the trustworthiness of the candidates. The Princeton students had never seen these people before and knew nothing about local elections in Canada.

Dr. Todorov then examined the number of elections won by the candidates in the photos and found that the students’ ratings of trustworthiness predicted more than 90% of the election results. It would appear that Canadian voters made basically the same judgment: They evaluated their politicians through simple, superficial judgments based on their faces.

We like to think we assess candidates based on their policies, experience, honesty and so on, but it doesn’t seem to be the case. Just a Canadian thing? I don’t think so. I suspect that even in important domains such as politics, we all make these sorts of rapid, emotional judgments. Maybe we need to go back and read what politicians are saying rather than just watch them perform on stage.

______________________________________________________

Dear Dan,

Can financial advisers, brokers and others in the financial industry truly follow their fiduciary responsibilities when they are paid on commission?

—Helene 

If you’re asking whether they can act in their customers’ best interests and give objective advice, the answer is no. Even more depressing, it seems humanly impossible to be paid more for some outcomes than others—to get more money if the client invests in stock A rather than stock B—and avoid bias.

I’m not saying that financial advisers do this intentionally. We all do it when our interests motivate us to see the world in a particular way: We use our tremendous brainpower to convince ourselves that what is good for us is also objectively good.

That’s why we must eliminate (or at least reduce) conflicts of interests in the markets—and why you should always try to figure out whether your service providers have conflicts of interests. Luckily, in the U.S., we understand these pitfalls and don’t allow our politicians to be corrupted by special interests or money.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.

Ask Ariely: On Minding the Gap, Making Contact, and Meaningful Kisses

July 9, 2015 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,

I do lots of research online for work. I’ve noticed that, as more and more information sources become available, I’m less and less sure about my research’s quality. Is my trust in online information dwindling?

—Maribel 

I suspect that the real reason isn’t trust. During my first years at university, I took many introductory classes and felt that I knew a lot about all the topics I was studying, from physiology to metaphysics. But once I got to graduate school and started reading more academic papers, I realized how large the gap was between what I knew and what I needed to learn. (Over the years, this gap has only widened.)

I suspect that your online searches have a similar effect on you. They show you the size of the gulf between what you know from online research and the other knowable information still out there.

The magnitude of this gap can be depressing, maybe even paralyzing. But the good news is that a more realistic view of how little we really know—and more humility—can open the door to more data and fewer opinions.

______________________________________________________

Dear Dan,

I am a saleswoman working at a major company. Recently, we’ve been told to try to make physical contact with customers—for example, by touching their arm when stressing an important point. I don’t like this approach. Do you know if it has any scientific basis?

—Ayala 

You might not want to hear the answer, but we do have some evidence suggesting the efficacy of physical touch. Perhaps someone at your company read about a study by Jonathan Levav of Columbia University and Jennifer Argo of the University of Alberta published in Psychological Science in 2010. They found that individuals who experienced physical contact from women—a handshake or a touch on the shoulder—felt calmer and safer, and consequently made riskier financial decisions.

Another study published two years later—by Paul Zak and his team, in Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine—found that after receiving a 15-minute massage (especially the females) were more willing to give their money to others. Dr. Paul also found that their blood contained elevated levels of oxytocin, a hormone linked to trust and intimacy.

More research backs these findings up. One 2010 study, carried out by researchers at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, found that 45 minutes of Swedish massage reduced the levels of hormones that are released during stress and tied to aggressive behavior.

And why stop there? Armed with this information, you could go to your boss and suggest that massaging the customers is inefficient: There are lots of them, and they stay in the store for only a short time. Why not massage the employees each morning instead to make them more friendly and trusting?

______________________________________________________

Dear Dan,

Why does a first kiss feel so magical? Is it because of the law of decreasing marginal utility, according to which the utility derived from every ensuing kiss decreases, or is it because (besides the fun of the clinch itself) the kiss provides you with so much new information—notably, that the other person feels the same way about you, which in most cases offers a huge relief from the anxiety that you were on a one-way road?

—Gaurav

I suspect that the reason first kisses are special isn’t related to waning marginal utility or rising familiarity—and certainly not because they’re better. (The technique, strategy, approach and objective performance of a smooch probably increases over time.) The key is that a first kiss has tremendous meaning attached to it. It provides a transition to a new kind of relationship and a new way for two people to think about themselves, separately and together. Maybe it is time to try to imbue our other kisses with more meaning?

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.

Reader Response: Day 16

June 5, 2015 BY danariely

Ask Ariely: On Lasting Gifts, Pre-engagement, and Incentivizing Scientists

May 9, 2015 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,

What is the best gift to give my mom for Mother’s Day?

—Logan

Mother’s Day comes once a year, but mothering is an everyday activity—which is why you should try to get your mother a gift that keeps giving in some way for the entire year. In general, transient things don’t make great gifts: flowers, gift certificates, cleaning supplies. Here are some better ideas: A special pillowcase, a nice case for her smartphone, a good wallet, an artistic keychain—or anything else that she’s likely to use daily, which will remind her of your gratitude. And of course, say something especially nice when you give it to her: The giving-ceremony and the accompanying words will define the way she will think about the gift and her relationship with you. And remember—you can’t be too mushy.

______________________________________________________

Dear Dan,

My partner and I have been together for a few years. At some point, I am sure we will get married. However, I’m not in any hurry to get engaged, let alone worry about a wedding date and all the planning that comes after. My partner, on the other hand, he is perfectly ready. What should I do?

—Aline

First, let’s ask why your boyfriend is so keen to get engaged soon. Perhaps it’s because you’ve been dating for a long time, and he wants to feel that the relationship is moving forward. Or perhaps he isn’t sure that the two of you really are going to get married, and he wants to try to seal the deal.

Depending on his reasons, you might be able to help assuage the root cause of his concern without getting engaged. If his concern is just about moving forward, you can take some lessons from game designers. Right now, you are playing a three-step “game”—dating, engagement, marriage. You don’t want to move to level two or three yet, so maybe you can design a game with more levels—with several steps between dating and marriage. There’s dating, dating steadily, dating seriously, pre-engagement, engagement and post-engagement. By thinking in terms of these additional steps, your boyfriend could get a feeling of progress while you avoid a feeling of pressure.

On the other hand, if he’s looking for more certainty about where you two are headed, you can do all kinds of things to make clear that you intend to stay with him for a very long time. Maybe you could set up a joint bank account, make plans for things far in the future or buy a car together.

If you don’t know the real concern, use both approaches.

One last personal note: In my experience, whenever we face a decision about something good—and presumably, getting married is something good—delaying is rarely better. The one downside, of course, is that once you do decide to get married, your parents are going to start calling to ask when you are going to give them grandchildren.

______________________________________________________

Dear Dan,

How can I find scientists who will study people’s poop-pickup behaviors and help design campaigns to get more people to clean up after their dogs?

—Emily

Offer them treats. Treats for scientists are a bit more complex than treats for pets, but if you were to announce a competition of ideas to solve the dog-poop problem, promise to try the different proposals in a scientific way and announce the winner publicly, that combination of ego and data would probably work nicely.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.

Ask Ariely: On Moving In, Stopping By, and Checking Out

March 28, 2015 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,

Last week, I asked my girlfriend to move in with me. After an awkward silence, she said that she couldn’t move in with me because she’s scared of dogs and dislikes my small Jack Russell terrier. I love my girlfriend and don’t want to lose her, but I don’t want to give my dog away either. Any advice?

—Mike

This was most likely a test of your love for her, and you failed—so you don’t really need to worry about this particular dilemma.

Still, you may face something similar in the future. If we looked at your dilemma from a rational economic perspective, the answer would be straightforward: Start by writing down how much happiness you get each day from your dog and how much happiness you expect to get each day from your girlfriend. Next, multiply each of these numbers by the expected duration of the relationship and discount it by the natural decline in happiness as relationships go on. Then pick the relationship with the higher number.

Or we could use a more psychological perspective, rooted in what social scientists call “loss aversion.” According to loss aversion, we care more about avoiding losses than we care about winning gains. That means that, from your current perspective (living with your dog but without your girlfriend), you are probably overly focused on the loss of your pooch and insufficiently focused on the gains of joint life with your girlfriend. To overcome loss aversion, frame your choice not as giving up one thing and getting another but as a choice between two potential future states: one life with your dog but without your girlfriend, and another with your girlfriend but not your dog. Play out the two scenarios in your head, with all the little details of life, and see which scenario leaves you smiling more.

Finally, if you do go with the economic approach, choose your girlfriend and she asks you how you made your decision: Don’t ever tell her.

______________________________________________________

Dear Dan,

I have lots of friends who grew up outside the U.S., and they often tell me that their social lives here aren’t as good as they were in their home countries. Are they just romanticizing their homelands, or are we Americans doing something wrong in our social relationships?

—Wendi

I agree with your friends—and I don’t think their memories are just biased and romanticized. Social life in the U.S. isn’t as good as it could be because Americans try too hard to be social.

I grew up in Israel, where friends simply stop by unannounced. This means that, as a host, you aren’t prepared, and no one expects to you to be. In this mutual low-expectations setup, visitors simply get integrated into whatever is going on. If they show up at dinnertime, they pull up a chair; if they come beforehand, they help chop vegetables.

In the U.S., on the other hand, we plan to see someone in seven weeks at 8 p.m., and everyone gears up for the occasion. The hosts clean the house and cook something special; the guests dress up and bring a gift. The whole process demands much more effort, and we therefore do it much less frequently. Maybe we should all lower our expectations and raise our appreciation for serendipity in our social lives.

______________________________________________________

Dear Dan,

What is the best way to teach my kids about money?

—Raquel

Become their pay-day lender. Next time you’re in the checkout line at the supermarket and your kids want candy, offer to lend them the money at a weekly interest rate of 20%. Do this a few times, and they’ll quickly learn some important financial lessons.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.

Ask Ariely: On Valentine’s Day, (Over)valuing our Things, and Parental Approval

February 13, 2015 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,

My friends and I hate Valentine’s Day: It feels arbitrary, contrived and commercial. How can we change our attitude to make the day feel meaningful?

—Frank

What bothers you may not be the arbitrary nature of Valentine’s Day. Lots of celebrations occur on arbitrary dates (New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving and so on), and few people complain. What probably bugs you is the feeling that Valentine’s Day was created as a ploy by the marketing departments of jewelry, chocolate and flower sellers. And it is this adversarial perspective that makes you dislike Valentine’s Day.

Let me suggest a different way to frame Valentine’s Day. In my experience, the vast majority of people aren’t romantic enough, and we often take our significant others for granted. This lack of attention and care translates to conflicts and joint misery. Basically, when we are left to our own devices, we just don’t do enough—as the noted behavioral economist Stevie Wonder put it—to say how much we care.

So since we seem to be romantically challenged, we probably could use some reminders and rules to spur more affectionate behavior. So think of Valentine’s Day as an annual mechanism to help us reflect on our loved ones and pay them a bit of extra attention. The only real question is: Why do we have Valentine’s Day only once a year? Don’t we need it once a week, or at least once a month?

______________________________________________________

Dear Dan,

My job involves helping divorcing couples divide their marital estates—their income, assets and debt. I’ve often noticed that my clients irrationally overvalue what they personally own—from jewelry and furniture to pension plans. How can I get them to think more logically about their property?

—Adam

Sometime I ask the students in my classes to build a simple Lego car. When they finish, I place a large trash bin in the middle of the room and ask them to break their creation apart and deposit the pieces in the bin. I also tell them that I will be taking all the pieces, sorting them into sets and using them again in next year’s class. Each time, I see horror in their faces. What kind of a person would ask them to take their creation, destroy it and give it away?

I let them marinate in their grief for a few seconds as I head to the back of the room to haul in the trash can. Before anyone starts breaking their Lego creations, I stop them, tell them that they can keep their Legos and ask them to reflect on their feelings. The students had only a very brief relationship with their Lego masterpieces, but they got very attached to it—which demonstrates how quickly we get attached to the things we own. Now, imagine how much more attached people get if they own something for a really long time.

So what can you do about this attachment problem in your business? Try taking both parties’ possessions and moving them to a trust for a year. When you back come to distribute the property a year later, they may well feel less ownership—and be more open to a reasonable division.

______________________________________________________

Dear Dan,

I don’t know how to tell whether I am in love. Each time I become close to a boy, I start thinking about whether my family would accept him and start seeing him through my parents’ eyes. So I never fully immerse myself in any relationship, and I can’t disentangle my opinion of the guy from my parents’. How can I figure out my own, independent feelings?

—Seema

A hint: If you’re thinking about your parents when you meet a boy, you aren’t in love.

 

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.