Have you held on to something you created earlier in your life, maybe an elementary school finger painting or a junior high wood shop birdhouse? I have collections of greeting cards I made and never sent, and booklets I made and never used. Why am I still keeping them? Because I made them.
And I’m not alone. Behavioral economist Dan Ariely calls feeling good about things we make the “Ikea effect.” You can read his piece in “Why We Love Our Own Creations,” at dailygood.org.
If you’ve ever assembled a piece of Ikea furniture — despite it often being a frustrating and time-consuming experience — you’ll know what he’s talking about. When you complete the project you look at the results and feel pride. “I did this,” you tell yourself, “and it looks good.”
Ariely says that makers of cake mixes figured out this aspect of human nature a long time ago. In an earlier era, when cake mixes required cooks only to add water, they didn’t sell well. Later, when homemakers had to add eggs and oil to the mix, they became more attached to the cake. It became their creation.
In one of Ariely’s experiments, subjects folded paper cranes. Even if their creations were ugly, they liked them because of the effort they’d put into making them.
The point of the Ikea effect is that it shows us we get something in return when we do projects for ourselves, when we don’t expect manufacturers/businesses to do all the work. When I take a loaf of homemade bread from the oven, I feel thrilled. I hover around it, stick my nose near it to inhale the aroma, sometimes take a picture. It is the most satisfying experience.
Ariely says for those creators, “the lesson here is that a little sweat equity pays us back in meaning — and that is a high return.”