We like to think we have it under control. After all, we are rational human beings, so every action we take has a rational reason behind it. Yet, if we look deeper, we will find that the more we try to rationalize our behavior, the more wrong our explanation becomes…
Consider this fascinating 1987 experiment. University of Michigan researcher Norbert Shwartz placed a dime next to the copy machine in the University library throughout the day, and later interviewed everyone who used the copy machine about their life.
Schwartz found that those who found the dime were more satisfied with their life as a whole and more optimistic about the future. And you thought you couldn’t get anything for a dime anymore!
“Those who found the dime were more happy and more satisfied and wanted to change their lives less than those who didn’t find a dime,” says Schwarz. “It’s not the value of what you find. It’s that something positive happened to you, and surprised you.”
In another experiment, Hyunjin Song and Norbert Schwartz had participants read a Japanese lunch roll recipe and estimate how long it would take to make the roll. One set of participants read the recipe in an easy-to-read Arial font, while other participants read the same recipe in an elegant but hard-to-read Mistral font as seen below.
Common sense would tell you that font shouldn’t affect our judgment. Yet, participants who read the recipe in the Mistral font estimated it would take 36 minutes to make this recipe, while participants who read the Arial font estimated it would only take 23 minutes to make the same exact recipe!
There are many other similar studies that show how little things affect our decisions and actions in big ways. However, “the dime only works if you’re not aware you’re happy because you found it,” says Schwartz.
So the more aware you become about your environment, the less these subtle events will affect you. However, nobody can be fully aware about everything that’s going on all the time. In fact, the reason these little things affect us outside our awareness is because we have evolved to react fast to our environment, even when we’re not consciously aware of it.