Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Upside Of Irrationality: Chapter 6

Through a series of experiments, Dan Ariely documents the many ways in which humans behave irrationally. By understanding these human tendencies, we can both learn to behave more rationally when it is to our benefit, and better understand why those around us are behaving in the way they are.

Humans underestimate their adaptive abilities. As a result, they overestimate the impact some event will have on their happiness.

Ariely tested people who have been through severe pain, and found that their pain thresholds were significantly higher than those of a control group. He surmises that subconsciously, humans even adapt to pain.

While we adapt very well (as do other animals), what we don't do well is account for our ability to adapt. For example, we make purchases thinking they will make us happier. But while that new car or new sofa makes us happy in the short term, in the long term we adapt to the new state and the temporary happiness wears off.

As a result of some experiments Ariely cited and conducted, he offers some ways to shorten pain and prolong pleasure as a result of our subconscious adaptations. The first thing to know is that interruptions slow adaptation. Therefore, get a painful task (e.g. your taxes) done all at once, but take a break from (and then return to) your warm bubble bath (assuming that's how you derive pleasure) if you want to enjoy it more.

We also adapt slower when we compare our situations to those of others. We like to "keep up with the Joneses", unfortunately, and feel bad if we don't. But the good news is, you do get to control who you keep close. So keep "Joneses" around with whom you don't feel bad in comparison!

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