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Dan Ariely was burned all over his body. He lived in the hospital for years. He grew up there. Now he writes about pain. And irrationality. And meaning.

He had nerve damage from the burns. And no skin to protect himself from pain. The nurses rip off his bandages.

He begged them to peel them off gently.  

They wouldn’t.

He wanted less pain and more relief. They did it quick for peace of mind. Not his.


Dan calls this “irrational behavior.” He says, “being irrational are the cases where we think we will behave in one way, but we actually don’t. And the reason I care about this is because those are the cases in which people are likely to make decisions.”

He helps predict behavior. So you can respond the way you’d expect you would… not the way you actually do.

“It’s an interesting conflict,” he says.

We talked about his new TED book, “Payoff: The Hidden Logic That Shapes Our Motivations,” long-term well-being, how to make meaningful contributions in your life and others.

You can keep reading here to learn 3 lessons from Dan Ariely.

Or listen to our full conversation here:

1) Invest in long-term wellbeing

I follow my daily practice. I check the box on these four values every day.

Dan says, ”We often think about maximizing happiness. But the things that truly give us long-term joy are not really the things that give us happiness.”

I thought about my four boxes…

a. Physical health – I take a walk everyday. If nothing else, I at least walk. Or do pushups. I don’t want my muscles to atrophy. I want to walk my daughters down the aisle and be happy for them. I don’t want to be distracted by pain. And in the short term, (because my daughters are at least 30-40 years away from marriage), I can feel better about myself. I can check the box.

b. One new thing – I learn at least one new thing everyday. Read, watch a documentary, look around, observe, engage in a conversation. Whatever. One thing. Check the box.

c. Be creative:  Creativity conquers jealousy, envy, self-pity. It conquers worry. Your worries can come back. Mine do all the time. But if you distract yourself with creativity and focus, you’ll find yourself in another world.

d. Gratitude: I got a phone call this morning. A friend asked for advice. I give him advice a lot and he always calls back. That can mean two things: either my first advice didn’t help… or it did. I don’t know. I don’t ask because dwelling isn’t part of gratitude. This list is hard. It’s easy to see when someone is always calling you for something. But it’s hard to notice that this person values you… and your opinion. Be grateful for everything you don’t notice. That’s also part of being creative. Try to find one new perspective today. Like a photographer looking for just the right angle.

This is how I create long-term happiness. But I forget sometimes. It’s easy to forget.

“We focus on the daily happiness, give up on the long-term happiness and in the process don’t do things in our personal lives,” Dan says, “If you lived all your life and you got drunk every night and watched two sitcoms every day, you would not end your life and say, ‘This was an amazing life.’”

“The things we do that get us to feel the true, deep sense of accomplishment are things like running a marathon, climbing a mountain, writing a book, and inventing something,” he said.

And within each of those goals is a daily practice… your daily practice. Whatever that looks like for you. Dan says, “These are things that don’t maximize momentary happiness. They maximize a very different sense of happiness.”

2) Make the invisible visible

Dan was in Soweto a few years ago. It’s a slum in South Africa. He saw a father buying funeral insurance.

“People don’t have money there,” Dan says, “And funerals are very expensive. So when people have a little bit of money they buy funeral insurance just in case they die. In a very ceremonious way, he gave the certificate to his son.”

He thought that when a bread winner does something good for the family, the family sees it.

But a lot of the time… they don’t. And then motivation disappears.

The father showed his efforts. He handed over a certificate. He made the invisible visible.

I asked Dan, “How can I show my kids when I do something great that supports them?” But Dan said it’s not about the accomplishment.

It’s about the process.

3) Find out what people actually want

Dan’s book has strategies for motivating others. Including yourself.

“I think of increasing motivation as something everyone benefits from,’ he said.

“Last year I was thinking of what to give the people in my research center for the end of the year. And what I decided to do was ask everybody to tell me:

  • What is one thing you want to learn?
  • Where in the world you want to learn it
  • And I said I’d send them to that place for two weeks to learn whatever it is they wanted to learn.”

I don’t always know exactly what I want to learn. Sometimes it’s hidden. And when I discover something I didn’t know I was looking for, the irrational world and my irrational mind collide. We create our own universe.

It’s the reason nothing will ever be rational. There’s always another edge. A new angle…  

Thanks to Dan Ariely, the only prediction I know is this…

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