Why do we do what we do?

Tuesday night's episode of Frontline on PBS, "The Persuaders", was about the world of marketing and advertising. It was a fascinating look at how words and emotions are used to get us to do things that other people want us to do. A prime consumer-related factor in this system, which marketers and advertisers use to their advantage, is that we often don't know why we do what we do. Shortly after hearing that from the television, my high school senior son came into the room and handed me the most recent college application he's working on. The part he wanted me to look at was the page about the requested essays. The first requested essay was to be 250-300 words on "Why do I want to attend college XYZ?" A fairly basic question (unlike the others on the page, which grew increasingly complex), but in light of what I'd just heard on television--how most of us don't know why we do the things we do--it became fairly profound. To answer that question adequately requires my son to know key points about the school, as well as key points about himself and his goals, and then to find intersection of these points (all while exhibiting compelling writing style and following rules of grammar and syntax).

What if we all had to write such paragraphs about why we were doing such and so and have them read by an objective evaluator?.....Why did I buy those three sweaters last week? Why did I say yes to that project? Why did I say no to that request? Why do I want to go back to school? Why am I taking this vacation? Why did I say that? Why am I holding back?.....On the one hand, it seems silly to take any amount of time to assess such routine, often intuitive, decisions and actions. On the other hand, thinking through the why's could help us learn some interesting things about ourselves and why we do what we do.