Meaningful Labor Explained By Prof. Dan Ariely

Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “labor” as:

a : expenditure of physical or mental effort especially when difficult or compulsory.
b (1) :human activity that provides the goods or services in an economy
(2) : the services performed by workers for wages as distinguished from those rendered by entrepreneurs for profits.”

But, says Prof. of Behavioral Economics, Dan Ariely,

On an intuitive level most of us understand the deep interconnection between identity and labor… ‘What do you do?’ has become as common a component of an introduction as the anachronistic ‘How do you do?’ once was—suggesting that our jobs are an integral part of our identity, not merely a way to make money…”

Here is Ariely describing the psychology behind how we view labor:

Like Rats In A Maze?

As mentioned in a previous post, behavioral economics differs from standard economics because it doesn’t assume that people are strictly rational. Ariely describes this difference in the perception of labor:

… the basic economic model of labor generally treats working men and women as rats in a maze… all the rat (person) wants to do is to get to the food with as little effort as possible. But if work also gives us meaning, what does this tell us about why people want to work?”

Blogging As An Example

In his book, The Upside of Irrationality: The Unexpected Benefits of Defying Logic at Work and at Home, Ariely looks into what motivates so many people to write blogs:

blogs have two features that distinguish them from other forms of writing.  First, they provide the hope or the illusion that someone else will read one’s writing… Blogs also provide readers with the ability to leave their reactions and comments–gratifying for both the blogger, who now has a verifiable audience, and the reader-cum-writer. Most blogs have very low readership… but even writing for one person, compared to writing for nobody, seems to be enough to compel millions of people to blog.”

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