One of the experiments that Ariely describes is named after a classical myth: Sisyphus!
[...] And this other condition we called the Sisyphic condition. And if you remember the story about Sisyphus, Sisyphus was punished by the gods to push the same rock up a hill, and when he almost got to the end, the rock would roll over, and he would have to start again. And you can think about this as the essence of doing futile work. You can imagine that if he pushed the rock on different hills, at least he would have some sense of progress. Also, if you look at prison movies, sometimes the way that the guards torture the prisoners is to get them to dig a hole, and when the prisoner is finished, they ask him to fill the hole back up and then dig again. There's something about this cyclical version of doing something over and over and over that seems to be particularly demotivating.
Here is Sisyphus with his rock as shown in a Greek vase painting from the sixth century B.C.E., and you can read more about Sisyphus at Wikipedia. I hope this class does not make you feel like Sisyphus toting that rock... if it does, let me know, and we will figure out a solution! :-)
(Greek vase, circa 530 B.C.E.)