Why we enjoy what we can’t have

The very first post from my blog was about the “Rule of Scarcity”. It describes how the human mind reacts strongly to any removal of freedoms- almost to the point of overreacting.

The topic we will be discussing today can be distinguished from the “Rule of Scarcity”, as this does not include being robbed of freedoms… but rather the scarcity occurs naturally.

Value derived from Scarcity

While doing exams last november, I tweeted the following:

“It seems the less I can afford to do something, the more I enjoy it. Gaming in the middle of exams = bliss.”

And now, after finishing my exams well into the holidays, I find myself with lots of free time. But I don’t feel like gaming. I’m sure lots of gamers out there relate. When busy, gaming is a luxury. When free, we game because we have nothing else to do.

So why do our minds do this? Why does it seem that our very biology is made to not enjoy what we have, and yet seek to covet what we can’t?

Zara, a clothing manufacturer, does what is called “Planned Obsolescence”. They stop making products so it is scarce, and thus valuable to the consumer. The logic is as follows: if you don’t buy it now, you will never see it again- so you better damn well buy it now.

Companies love to make “limited editions”… there is no loss of options (they don’t offer products to suddenly retract them), but rather we know about how rare or scarce the product is from the beginning.

So the question here is really two-fold: what happens when there is scarcity, and why does it happen?

Scarcity leads to desire

The first part of the question is quite easy to answer. When something is scarce or rare, we seem to want to hoard it. From a strategy point of view, this makes logical sense. If we monopolise a resource, we seek to have the most to gain. If others monopolise it, we have the most to lose- so naturally we seek to gain as much of this resource as possible.

In terms of actions, the value of a behaviour seems to go up the more it is shunned. For example: anyone ever tell you NOT to take a cookie from the cookie jar? Not to play games until you are finished studying? From a strategic point of view, this does not make sense. The participation in a prohibited behaviour does not guarantee gains nor minimise losses.

So why?

Scarcity reactions due to shortage or perception of rarity- this leads to highest benefit and minimalizes loss, so naturally it is a good idea.



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