Friday, June 18, 2010

Advice for the Irrational in All of Us

Cover of The Upside of IrrationalityHere's a new book I want to check out: The Upside of Irrationality by Dan Ariely.

A brief review by Cory Doctorow on BoingBoing had these intriguing things to say:

My favorite is the section on adaptation, that is, the way in which both terrible pain and incredible delights fade down to a kind of baseline normal over time. Ariely points out that adaptation can be slowed or even prevented through intermittent exposure to the underlying stimulus -- that is, if you take a break, the emotional sensation comes back with nearly full force.

Here's where our intuitive response is really wrong: we have a tendency to indulge our pleasures without respite, and to take frequent breaks from those things that make us miserable. This is exactly backwards. If you want to maximize your pleasure -- a great dessert, the delight of furnishing your first real apartment after graduation, a wonderful new relationship -- you should trickle it into your life, with frequent breaks for your adaptive response to diminish. If you want to minimize your pain -- an unpleasant chore, an awful trip -- you should continue straight through without a break, because every time you stop, your adaptive response resets and you experience the discomfort anew.
I've been known to say that having frequent "peak experiences" like travel to Disneyworld can't help but diminish the pleaure of the everyday, especially in children who lack even the small amount of perspective adults have about these things.

I hadn't thought about how powering through the unpleasant could actually make it less dismal than taking frequent breaks from the grind. I'll have to get ahold of the book, as well as Ariely's earlier book, Predictably Irrational, and find out more.

1 comment:

Blissed-Out Grandma said...

Interesting point about just forging through the unpleasant. I agree with you about too many peak experiences... I see it in the extreme in the broken lives of some athletes who peak early--win the Olympic gold in ice skating at 16 or the World Series at 19 and never get the feeling back, so they chase it with drugs and fast living.