Irrational vs Rational

By Paulo Coelho

Recently I read in an article by David Mehegan in The Boston Globe about the release of the book “Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions.” by Dan Ariely, a behavioral economist at MIT.

This book seemed very appealing to me because the author proves, by a series of behavioural experiments, that humans tend to act much more irrationally than rationally.
Indeed, as the journalist puts it:

“Ariely’s book explores the varieties of nonsensical economic thinking, such as:

We value things more when we pay a higher price for them. The Bayer aspirin and the Rolex watch
seem valuable because of how much they cost, not because they’re better in practical terms than a generic aspirin or a Timex.

Relativity distorts reality. We might be earning 10 times more money than we earned for the same work a decade ago, but we’re convinced that we’re underpaid if the people around us are earning more.

Easy choices make decisions difficult. The more nearly equal two alternative products, jobs, or presidential candidates are, the more agonizing the choice between them.

We’re hopeless suckers for the word “free” on an item for sale, even if there’s a hidden cost and the product is something we don’t need or even like.”

Indeed, how many times the power of the word “free” plunges us into an unnecessary buying spree of things that as soon as we leave the store we already regret?

Why do we keep on postponing decisions and most importantly let ourselves be guided by this illusion of abundance?

If the reasons of this irrationality are impossible for us to see, at least, Ariely’s book seem to give some sort of comfort.

We can learn from our mistakes and refrain from making the same irrational gestures that we afterwards we feel bad about.

The solution then lies in our ability to bypass our “wired-in tendencies”.

Ariely’s book is interesting in the realm of economics. It not only reveals that much of our “rational” decisions are actually irrational, but also that our rationality can guide us to step away from a vicious circle.

I believe nevertheless that when one gets away from this economic perspective – this tendency is reversed.

Sometimes it is by letting our irrationality take over that we actually manage to see our true path.
What’s your take on that?


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  1. Agnieszka says:

    Oh..nice,:-), it was supossed to be in the next paragraph. Funny me.

  2. Marie-Christine says:

    Purchasing the Rolex, etc is only there to fill a void. It only lasts for two minutes.

  3. monish21 says:

    Rational Thinking requires some Irrational Thoughts

    Let me explain this way:
    Money is strange, because you can either earn money the easy way or the hard way. It is very hard to find the easy way and very easy to find the hard way. That is the reason most people go by the easy way and keep earning money the hard way all their lives. Very few follow their guts (follow their dream) and take the hard way and eventually start earning money the easy way.

    I bet nobody understands this better than our author here – Mr Paulo.

    Monish K Khosla

    PS: If you ever read this Mr Paulo, I am from India, living in US – I am 25 years old and love to communicate with this world. I would like to have chat with you someday.
    Email: [email protected]

  4. Al says:

    Well, our life is a mixture of irrational and rational thoughts we have all the time.

    When your’e choosing a spouse you might have some reasons why you are attracted to her, but you can’t rationalise why one looks better than the other for you, or why after youv’e seen one you can’t see any other.

  5. luce says:

    When the war arrived in my home town, on my 40th birthday first bombs hit ground around my home only the mountains of love, hope and faith got me through.
    I left behind everything and fled to town that I untill then I saw as picturepostcard but it was and it still is fortress.
    When I was able to visit my ruined home still under occupation with me I took only my family photographs ( some of them 80 years old ). When I returned to the shelter my sister couldn’t believe I left all “necessary” back there, to thieves ( lovely dresses, shoes, cristal, etc …)
    I left my books as well, my LP records, my diaries… nobody took them anyway, and by the time war was over, the fashion changed…
    Some houses in this village of mine were burnt down… now tell me was it more rational to take photos or coat and boots, for me there were no choice realy.
    In the end from my photoes copies are made for whoever asked.

    Thank you Paulo for the questions, they make me think deeper then I did for long time !


  6. Carlos Alberto says:


    As Anthony Robbins says… People take decisions based on emotions and justify them with reason.

    .. by the way, my emotions urge me to ask you, why is your blog in english and not in spanish… :(


  7. Iqra says:

    I totally agree wih Aditya.
    I also have made some decisions in my life very irrationally and I also had to bear consiquences. Now i realise what is difference between Irrational and Rational.

  8. Rebecca says:

    Little children are always asking ‘why?’ How wise. I don’t know if it is irrational, rational, perverse, stubborn or simply the open curiosity of innocence that wants the truth of things which allows adults to do the same thing.
    ‘Why’ is a refusal to accept things at face value and be taken in by them. ‘Why’ stops the footsteps on that well trodden path and begins the process of looking at the issue from other angles. Rational and irrational are 2 sides of 1 coin. We are holding the whole coin. ‘Why’ can lead us to either side of it, it can also take us beyond the coin altogether to the hand that holds it.

  9. aditya says:

    rationality is limited by the person’s capabilities, the race’s capabilities. what is rational goes on changing as we change with time, while irrationality is limitless. humans are capable of more than the limitations of their human mind, but rationality is within the capabilities of mind, hence what u say paulo, makes sence, we need to be able to use both ratinality and irrationality for a healthy existance !

  10. wanbliska says:

    It is unnecessary to have a mountain o’ things. But now I’d like some things in my life. Because I spent a long long time without asking a thing. Accepting to be poor.
    Now I have projects that need money.
    The rich person is blessed when he share his things.
    We have all that we need in this world. Enough for all to be feed and clothed. And have fun.
    People deserve it, as any one of us.

    When I worked in a supermarket, I watched the customers with their caddie, waiting for the open. Once the doors were. They entered very promptly. I didn’t know if I had to cry or laugh. They seem to be feared by being short of all that mountain o’things.

    I never go shopping. Only once a week, for food.
    This could be add in my hell day list: Having to be in a supermarket on a saturday…

  11. wanbliska says:

    Mountains o’ things – Tracy Chapman

    The life I’ve always wanted
    I guess I’ll never have
    I’ll be working for somebody else
    Until I’m in my grave
    I’ll be dreaming of a live of ease
    And mountains
    Oh mountains o’ things

    To have a big expensive car
    Drag my furs on the ground
    And have a maid that I can tell
    To bring me anything
    Everyone will look at me with envy and with greed
    I’ll revel in their attention
    And mountains
    Oh mountains o’ things

    Sweet lazy life
    Champagne and caviar
    I hope you’ll come and find me
    Cause you know who we are
    Those who deserve the best in life
    And know what money’s worth
    And those whose sole misfortune
    Was having mountains o’ nothing at birth

    Oh they tell me
    There’s still time to save my soul
    They tell me
    Renounce all
    Renounce all those material things you gained by
    Exploiting other human beings

    Consume more than you need
    This is the dream
    Make you pauper
    Or make you queen
    I won’t die lonely
    I’ll have it all prearranged
    A grave that’s deep and wide enough
    For me and all my mountains o’ things

    Mostly I feel lonely
    Good good people are
    Good people are only
    My stepping stones
    It’s gonna take all my mountains o’ things
    To surround me
    Keep all my enemies away
    Keep my sadness and loneliness at bay

    The life I’ve always wanted
    I guess I’ll never have
    I’ll be working for somebody else
    Until I’m in my grave
    I’ll be dreaming of a live of ease
    And mountains
    Oh mountains o’ things

    I’ll be dreaming, dreaming…

  12. Daniel says:

    Well, I believe, the worst thing to get caught up in is routine or following others,and that is basically where the words rational and irrational come from. If it is “the norm”, then it is rational thought or action. If it goes against the grain, in every sence of the word, then it is irrational. But, just the opposite is true to me. Part of all the ill’s in the world are due to people conforming to old ways of thinking. If the goal of mankind is to evolve, then irrational, non-comforming thought, is the way to go.

    Thank you

  13. Joan says:

    Irrational or inducted?

    When shopping is concerned we must bear in mind that companies spend loads of money to keep their brands on top of mind in our thoughts.

    When thinking about what we earn, it is not true that what you earn is your value?

    Some irrational thoughts are not that irrational. They’ve been inducted to makes us work harder and harder, not knowing what for.

    It’s a kind of new religion, where shopping malls are the new churches and the more you spend the better you will feel…


  14. Tania says:

    My take on that is that what some may seem as a Irrational decision can push you into a place where you are yes out of a vicious circle not repeating the same patterns , learning to do things for your self ,showing” others” that you mean what you say “action speaks louder that words” ,also by postponing things ,or decisions we end sometimes not following through or we just keep putting off the inevitable .I think that choices dont have to be hard even if they are close in price ,or running for something , You sometimes are not given a choice and why cant you have both items and share them …and yes I think if something or someone is blocking you or holding you back then you need to pave a new path and I am certain the universe will honor ,support your choices or decisions , thats what life is about .But some people are predictable day in day out while others act unpredictable or make sudden irrational choices ,I prefer to be outside of the box that people feel safe in ,thats when you see what you are made of . Blessings Tania

  15. maxim says:

    We walk same steps, afraid to change the path, change direction.
    Afraid of the unknown, afraid go different way.
    We became slaves of the routine, of rules of this world.

  16. Liara Covert says:

    The subject of this Mehegan book reminds us that human ego is irrational and prompts people to behave contrary to their inner impulses. The line of thinking that enables humans to uncover truth, to learn to feel the inside of the self, is acually simple, different, and requires no inner struggle.

    When a person doesn’t choose to respect the past, he or she inevitably makes similar mistakes in future. Whatever you’re doing now or are about to do, a few months ago, you may have never imagined. And yet, you can love what you do, who and where you are. You can evolve to trust your instincts and discern they have their own virtues. To realize whatever is going on around you doesn’t have to brainwash or condition you to give up who you are, is a key step to opening your senses wider. We can each move away from irrational thinking and behaviour. its part of a process that indicates our growing self-awareness.

  17. Agnieszka says:

    Oh..nice,:-), it was supossed to be in the next paragraph. Funny me.

  18. Agnieszka says:

    So true.
    We walk same steps, afraid to change the path, change direction.
    Afraid of the unknown, afraid go different way.
    We became slaves of the routine, of rules of this world.
    Dare to be different..
    “Dare to live!” – like Andrea Boccelli sings – that’s what we should listen,
    that’s what can give us smile, that’s what’ll make us free.
    yes… there are always “buts”.
    Our heart tells us one thing, but, we don’t listen, afraid of… everything.

    you can always try,
    and change the world,
    change your own point of view,
    see love,
    hear every breath of silence
    when you alone,
    realize there is no nightmare,
    that there is


  19. azilda says:

    Today as i was walking the streets of Montreal i came upon a man dressed in hundreds of shopping plastic bags. He was standing on a very busy shopping avenue of the city. Every time someone walked by with a plastic bag full of purchases, he would offer the person a free cloth bag in exchange for the plastic one, if the person agreed, he would then wear the new bag and on to the next passer-by. I took a photograph of this man (you can see in while he was trying to convince a woman to do the exchange, i had to get involve to reassure her that this was not a scam…the cloth bag was really for free. She agreed and i made her promise that she would again use her new bag the next time she goes shopping. That was a very good idea from this young gentleman…i gave him two thumbs up …way UP!