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5 Reasons why we always want what we can’t have

5 Reasons why we always want what we can’t have

It’s hard to believe sometimes, but we always want what we can’t have. We’re sure you’ve experienced that more than once in your lifetime. For example, perhaps you were dating someone but you weren’t really into them. They gave it their best shot, but you just didn’t feel the same. 

That is until they stopped paying attention to you and they started seeing other people. Suddenly, you see how attractive they are and you remember all the lovely things they did for you. Now you want them back, but they’ve already started a relationship with someone else too. What a confusing situation! 

Does it only apply to people?

Another example could be: let’s say that you were eating chocolate cake and you got a little sick of it so you put it in the fridge. The next day, you’re browsing the fridge and you realize the cake is gone, someone else ate it and you can’t believe it.

You’re so angry! You didn’t want any more chocolate cake until it clearly caught the interest of someone else and got in their mouth too…  Only a cake is not retrievable but a person can be!

So why does this happen to us so often? Well, today we will explore 5 reasons why we always want what we can’t have!

So why do we want what we can’t have?

1. It’s a psychological thing:

There’s a psychological phenomenon called the scarcity effect and it can help you understand why you always want what you can’t have. The scarcity effect dictates that when you see that something is either rare, expensive, or desirable, your subconscious mind makes you want it more than other, more abundant things. 

The reason behind this is that we associate value with scarcity. The less of something we have, the more valuable it is.

When we can’t have something, that just makes us want it more because we perceive it as more valuable or precious than we ever did before. This is linked to our need for survival and is instinctive. The moment we perceive something is missing or so rare that we might not get the chance to have it later if we actually needed it somehow, we think about securing it “just in case”. 

2. Strangely, it makes us feel good:

The thrill of the hunt, they call it. When there’s something we can’t have it just makes us want to work harder to get it. Every step that brings us closer to the goal makes us feel amazing. It gives us a rush of dopamine and it encourages us to keep going. 

The thing about dopamine is that we can get hooked on it. So, we continue chasing the thrill again and again. Having to work harder for someone’s attention makes it more valuable, therefore we feel a lot better when we get it.

If you eat chocolate every day, it will eventually taste like nothing. If you can’t have it for a month, the next bite of chocolate you take will taste like heaven. 

3. We want to feed our ego:

We all have an ego and we take good care of it. We hate it when it gets bruised and that’s what happens whenever we can’t get something we want. It makes us feel like we’re not good enough, so we become resolved to correct that. 

Not getting what we want when we want it is a big part of life, but it bruises our ego. That’s why we have such a hard time navigating the idea of not being able to get something. We want the prize, we want to know that we’re worthy of the things we desire, and the only thing that can prove that is if we actually get them. 

4. We think it will make us happier:

Most people on earth are constantly looking for external things to help them be happier. Capitalism has fed into this, which is why we’re bombarded with products and services we simply “must have”. The economy relies on us spending money on things we think will make us happier. 

Unfortunately, that’s not always true. We might feel happy for a moment because we finally got the thing we wanted, but that’s temporary. It will pass and once it does, we will be craving the next thing. So, one of the reasons we always want what we can’t have is that we think it will make us happier. 

5. We enjoy a good challenge:

Last but not least, one of the most common reasons why we always want what we can’t have is that we enjoy the challenge. Remember, the harder it is to get, the more valuable it is. That’s the way our brain perceives it. 

So, that means that we will be more valuable when we finally get what we want. The challenge moves us to work harder and the process excites us. Additionally, we will feel extra validated whenever we finally get what we want. Why? Because it means we’re worthy of it. 


Wanting what we can’t have is one of those universal experiences, but does it mean we should always pursue the things that we want at any price and cost? The answer is “no”, and you can read this article to see why.

The trick is to not let it define us. It’s perfectly okay to not always get what we want. Sometimes, we can’t force things to go our way. The only thing we can do is try our best!

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