Furniture and Faith: The Ikea Effect

Written by Josh Packard, NCEA Executive Vice President of Strategy and Operations, [email protected]

A few years ago, my wife and I decided to tackle the daunting task of assembling an Ikea bookshelf together. We carefully followed the instructions and YouTube tutorials, deciphered the diagrams and spent hours laboring over every screw and bolt with those tiny tools provided in the kit. Surprisingly, as we completed the final step and stood back to admire our handiwork, a sense of pride washed over us. It wasn’t just any furniture; it was something we had put together with our own hands. We cherished that piece more than any other, even those that were family heirlooms made of solid oak (don’t tell Grandma!).   

It’s incredibly irrational on its surface.  Why would particleboard and nearly idiot-proof assembly instructions result in a sense of pride?  After all, we probably could have just spent a little bit more money and bought the furniture already assembled.  If we had done that, though, I think we could have easily ended up with a living room full of the exact same furniture, but with far less commitment to it or pride in it.   

Instead, we moved that flimsy bookshelf from one apartment to the next in graduate school and then from one house to another when we got real jobs.  Today, it still lives on in our basement, holding overflow books and photo albums.  It has survived all of these years not because it’s the most beautiful thing ever, but because we took so much pride in having built it that it just became a part of our lives.    

“The Ikea Effect”

Interestingly, this phenomenon has been studied and is known as “The Ikea Effect” coined by researchers Michael Norton, Daniel Mochon and Dan Ariely. The Ikea Effect refers to the tendency for individuals to assign greater value and attachment to objects they have actively participated in creating or assembling. It’s a psychological phenomenon that highlights the satisfaction and sense of ownership that comes from personal involvement.   

The Ikea Effect helps to explain why sometimes, a little bit of what designers and user experience experts call friction is actually beneficial for end-users.  If things are too easy or pre-packaged and ready to go, then we tend to think of them as disposable. The minute it doesn’t work or fit into our lives, we just think we can toss it and get another one. A little bit of friction that comes from participating in part of the creation increases short-term frustration a little bit but sets people up for long-term investment.   

Just as my wife and I took pride in the furniture we built, individuals who have explored and crafted their own faith often feel a stronger sense of ownership over their beliefs and values. By allowing teenagers to embark on a journey of religious exploration, we provide them with the opportunity to build their faith from the ground up. They can actively engage in asking questions, seeking answers, and forming their own understanding of spirituality. 

Crafting Their Own Faith

Encouraging teenagers to explore and craft their own faith lives doesn’t mean abandoning them or neglecting guidance. On the contrary, it means accompanying them as Pope Francis has called us, being present to support their exploration and providing a safe space for them to question, reflect and develop their unique spiritual perspectives. Research consistently demonstrates that when teenagers take ownership of their faith, it transforms into a deeply personal and meaningful aspect of their lives.  

Perhaps most importantly, data indicate that a sense of ownership and personal investment in their faith during teenage years is more likely to lead to continued religious practice and participation as an adult.  While it might take longer than just getting a faith or belief system “off the shelf” it will be more deeply held, more durable and likely to stick with them well into adulthood.   

So let us embark on the courageous path of supporting teenagers in their exploration of the divine, trusting that their journey of self-discovery will lead to a deeper and more genuine commitment than any amount of persuasion ever could.