I was a big fan of Dan Ariely’s first book called Predictably Irrational so when his new book called “The Upside of Irrationality” came out I was eager to read it. Like the first book, and similar to some other writing by social scientists, Ariely looks at research to try and discover why it is that we act in the ways we do.
I found his discussion on revenge fascinating but I won’t spoil the chapter in the event you decide to read it. Ariely sums up his thesis succinctly: “Our cognitive biases often lead us astray, particularly when we have to make, big, difficult, [and] painful choices.”
Perhaps, the one uniqueness of this book over others in this field of study is how much Ariely draws on personal experience. This is evident when he discusses what happened after he incurred third degree burns in an accident. In order to reduce his pain and the number of surgeries he would have to undergo, his doctor recommended the amputation of his hand and forearm. Dan says, “I decided to hold on to my poor, limited, eviscerated limb and make the best of things.” Now he wonders if he made a mistake: “I was not so rational, and I kept my arm–resulting in more operations, reduced flexibility, and frequent pain.”
Understanding human behaviour is fascinating to me. It constantly points toward a truth I often say on Sunday mornings usually in the context of telling people to not judge one another. I often say, “I have a hard time understanding why I do the things I do, much less, why others do the things they do.” This book is a good reminder to the complexity of factors that go into human decisions.