Are irrational people happier?

For years, the reckless rock star lifestyle has captivated many and confused the safety-oriented. Rationally, it makes no sense to put oneself in danger through risky behavior. But the lifestyle is glamorized even through the legacies of people who suffered and ultimately died from it, such as Jimi Hendrix and Kurt Cobain.

Rock and rollers have it right: living risky makes you happier. Image 1.

Kurt Cobain: "It's better to burn out than to fade away." Image: Flickr

Economic theorists such as Milton Friedman have predicted that irrational behavior will eventually be driven out. Now, a body of new research indicates that risk actually makes people happier and that rationality have the reverse effect. 

In a paper by Elyès Jouini published in the Journal of Economic Theory, findings assert that the "threat of elimination is not sufficient to push irrational agents toward rationality, and rational and surviving agents’ performances are not sufficiently high to generate learning through an adaptive process based on imitation of successful behaviors." Basically, people don't see the risk as outweighing the reward, even if it kills you. Like many studies on risk, the study was conducted through experiments testing financial decisions. 

Rock and rollers have it right: living risky makes you happier. Image 2.

Image: Flickr

One of the key differences in this study versus traditional economic experiments is that Jouini left room for standard irrationality, meaning that they counted "having fun" as a real motivator. 


Facts About risk and fun:

Biologically, there is evidence that irrational behavior in men is linked to increased testosterone and cortisol release under stress. In a study conducted with stock floor traders, an increase of these hormones was observed when participants were asked to make a quick decision on an asset. The women in the study were unaffected, suggesting that their stress activation functions differently.

No wonder people like risk: it produces dopamine in the brain, the same chemical released by drugs like heroin and cocaine. 

But good news: drugs are actually not very risky. According to this study, that might make them less enjoyable. 

Cover image: Flickr