I’ve just finished another interesting read, this time “The Upside of Irrationality” by DanAriely. A professor in psychology and behavioural economics at Duke University, Dan explores why humans hang on to things and feelings, as well as what really motivates us – in work and in life. It’s a really interesting perspective, told by an academic who isn’t academic in how he writes, and he comes across as a very humble and lovely person.
This is his second book – I haven’t read the first yet – and this time around, he focuses a lot on something terrible that happened to him in his late teens – he suffered 70 per cent burns to his body when a magnesium flare exploded next to him. Suffice to say, this guy went through hell – both multiple surgeries and a painful recovery process that took years (in fact, it will never really finish) and it was this experience that made him want to understand irrationality, because he wanted to understand his own pain.
It talks about lots and lots of things, but some highlights include research that proves how big bonuses do not generate better results. In fact, if anything, the results are worse because the pressure is too high. Naturally, the financial community did not accept these findings…
The Ikea affect, and why buying a crappy bit of furniture (sorry for those Ikea lovers out there but we’re all victims) and building it yourself makes you value it above something of real value. I think the red set of draws Steve and I built and painted before Lex was born fits that category – a lot of emotional attachment there.
He talks about adaptation and how we are really really good at it, which is quite fortunate really. This helps all of us, but one particular example is being bound to a wheelchair, or going blind later in life – with research showing that, overtime and with adaptation, most people are no less happy than “normal” folk. Dan obviously adapted after his accident, although every day he suffers pain and others’ reactions to his scars. But adaptation is also the reason why, as massive consumers, we are not finding joy in our lives, because anything new (car, house, kitchen, tiles, etc) is adapted to and then we are forced to seek the next new thing to stay “happy.”
There’s a lot to this book, like why we happily donate to a local girl suffering from something horrible and yet we don’t put our hands in our pockets when millions are starving – I hope people don’t ignore Somalia. Or why we value our own creations over others, and how we need to be aware that acting on negative feelings can result in us always acting in the same way if we face the same situation in future. Essentially, once we have a defined way of reacting, no matter the situation or circumstances, we tend to consistently react to things in the same way as we did the first time.
But it’s not all bad. By being aware that we’re all completely irrational, it helps us to look at our own irrational behaviours and maybe question why we do things the way we do and perhaps even change our reactions? Never a bad thing in my mind. But also, sometimes our irrational behaviour is a lifeline, because it helps us to survive, no matter how painful the situation we face.
So if you want to get into the human psyche a little and understand what makes us tick, I think this is a great, straight forward perspective on why we’re all just a little bit mad really.
Yours, without the bollocks
PS: I need a really really good book to get into – any recommendations? Some good escapism?