How Enormous Dominoes Can Help You Rethink Saving for Retirement – Facts So Romantic

A still from Prudential’s commercial, showing the largest domino to ever be toppled. The point was to make a spectacle of the power of compound interest.Courtesy of Prudential

It’s a clear warm day in early August, and the Harvard psychologist Dan Gilbert is lucky it isn’t windy. Towering right behind him stands a 30-foot tall domino. It’s 15 feet wide, four feet long, and weighs two tons. Gilbert, who is bald and has a thick white goatee and oval spectacles, looks puny by comparison. Passersby, noticing the humungous rectangle resting atop a long raised platform on the plaza of the NASCAR Hall of Fame, in Charlotte, North Carolina, start to gather around him, and he begins to lecture.

In 2009, Gilbert wrote a bestselling book called Stumbling on Happiness. “We think about the future in a way that no animal can, does, or ever has,” Gilbert argued in his book, “and this simple, ubiquitous, ordinary act is a defining feature of our humanity.” But the point of Gilbert’s demonstration was to help people think about the future in a way that evolution hasn’t programmed them to do: He was trying to help this audience understand compound interest.

Before the 1980s,…

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