Professor Dan Ariely is an exceptional individual – his academic career and work are well known and recognized. Dr. Ariely is a behavioral economist in Duke University’s Economics Department. When asked to define his drive in life, he answers that there are many things in this world with which he doesn’t agree, so he wants to change things. He is continuously working on multiple projects at the same time, and when he sees success, it keeps him motivated.
His ideas are not necessarily in agreement with the positive psychology approach. He describes his personal view as that of mostly seeing the mean and evil which exist in the world.
According to his point of view, for most of the bad things that happen, we are the ones who are responsible for the consequences—the way we treat our health and make other life-essential decisions during our lifetime. Thus, time wasted on unhealthy practices can be monitored and improved with the right treatments.
Professor Ariely discusses how it is valuable to exit the empirical, academic environment to address real-life projects outside of the lab and how participating in multiple and diverse projects requires him to gamble with his time. In contrast to the lab setting, real-life actions accomplished can immediately generate a positive feedback loop that creates a sense of commitment.
The quality of commitment is essential for Professor Ariely; in his earlier years, he was involved in a severe accident that left his body 70% covered with burns. He said that one summer, he calculated the amount of money that he would have owed to the Israeli health system (free health care) for all hospitalization time, number of surgeries, and doctors’ and nurses’ treatments.
Indeed, the debt he owes is immeasurable by all accounts. It became his mental practice to commit and appreciate the special care that he received.
Dr. Ariely describes that, for him, it was easy to make a positive comparison to more serious conditions when his health status worsened. Yet, it is not an obvious practice; some may only use the negative approach like making a comparison to healthier states. Although he was injured badly, he was still able to find the good fortune in his story.
Clinical psychologist Robert Frank describes in his book two situations of luck:
Obvious Luck- one thing led to another, and it is easy to spot the time and place that change occurred.
On the other hand, there is Regular Luck, which is thousands of little things that have happened over time, that each changed the probability of one big major event. Numerous things that have occurred over time led to one significant event. Ariely shows how to recognize both kinds of luck.
Dr. Ariely projects mostly involve dealing with the painful stories of life, such as poverty, disability, and social inequalities. One project includes mental guiding and mentoring people suffering severe health conditions. He tells about two young professional men around the same age who had similar health conditions but dealt differently with their situation. Both sought Ariely’s assistance after being involved in accidents that left them in a quadriplegic condition.
The first man broke his neck while jumping into shallow water; he contacted Professor Ariely a year after the event and was interested in finding big and meaningful reasons to live. Ariely suggested to him to start with writing a book on daily struggles, challenges, and how the injury affected his life. As stated before, Ariely’s preferred method of treatment is to face reality and be honest about it.
Before the accident, this young adult was a Ph.D. Student for applied mathematics and worked in a start-up company. After the accident, he tried to build resilience according to long-term and future goals, like how to live with such a condition. Four months after they started their relationship, the man decided to take his life by committing suicide. He was a young, successful individual with a bright future, and it makes sense that suicide would be a possible option. Ariely accepts that this can also happen.
The other man fell off his mountain bike and broke his neck. For him, daily struggles define and provide the meaning of life; part of his daily practice is to time and measure his morning and evening dressing skills. Such skills provide him greater independence and the ability to set short- term goals to deal with his health. Resilience is slowly built and adjusted according to the current abilities, skills, and strength available. Focusing on existing and short-term goals is a good choice of practice when motivation is required.
Lastly, Professor Arieli suggests spending one day a month in a rehabilitation center for severe injuries and visiting with the patients. It can provide a useful perspective on your life.
** Other recent projects that Dr. Arieli is involved in are assisting communities in Africa to save money for health care services, developing healthier diets based on behavioral psychology approaches, and more.