Mary John

Why Do We Want What We Can’t Have – 7 Possible Reasons


It is common knowledge that people always want things that they cannot have. Whether it is the latest clothes, shoes, laptops, gadgets, phones, cars, art pieces, homes, or even a person, We usually summarize it by saying that humans are never satisfied. While everyone has their reasons for wanting those things, one truth remains: the belief that those things will bring happiness, satisfaction, a sense of belonging, or an identity is a driving force for wanting them.

However, reality is different. We may strive and strive towards these things and still feel frustrated. The harder it is to get those things, the more we crave them. This leads to the ultimate question for today: why do we want what we can’t have?

We’ll get our answer from psychology to understand this aspect of human nature. Let’s get into it, shall we?

Reason 1: We Think It Will Make Us Happy

Anna Tarazevich, Pexels

Why do we want what we can’t have? Simply because we think it will make us happy.

If I asked you what makes you happy, I bet you would list a number of items. If I ask you which of those items are real and which are not, you’ll discover that almost half of them are imaginary things you think would make you happy if you had them. Am I right? Do a quick test and see.

Somehow, in our society, we are trained to think that new things would make our lives feel better, so we try all we can to acquire those things.

Think about it: your phone is working perfectly well, and you haven’t even exhausted all the features in it, but the minute you hear another phone is out that does exactly the same thing as yours, you quickly rush to buy it because you think it will make your life easier, happier, and better.

When you finally find it, you’ll discover it doesn’t make you happy.

Reason 2: We love to compare ourselves with others.

This is born from feelings of low self-esteem, inadequacy, and jealousy. When we compare ourselves with others, jealousy sets in, as we won’t be able to stand others having things we do not have. So even when we don’t need a thing, we will struggle to get it just so we can prove we are better than other people or be a higher point of comparison.

Now think about this: do you really need a new house, or do you just want to make your sister jealous? Do you really need that new car, or do you feel you’ll be left out of conversations and happenings because you don’t have it?

Comparison is one reason why we want what we can’t have.

Reason 3: We Want To Feel In Control Of Our Lives

When someone tells you you can’t have something, immediately a switch in your head goes off, and you fight tooth-and-nail to prove the person is wrong. You want to show that you have absolute control over everything that happens in your life, which is not always true.

Now, think about it. If you ask some young people why they chose the career path they are on, I bet they would tell you because their parents, friends, teachers, or someone else told them they couldn’t do it. While this can be a good way to motivate you, it can also be terrible because it builds up these unrealistic expectations in your mind that can come crashing on you later.

There’s this story. I heard of a lady who went on a talent show to sing. She had a terrible voice and couldn’t carry a tune. The judges on the show told her to forget about singing and pursue another of her passions because she was not good at it. As usual, everyone booed the judges and called them “haters,” encouraging the girl to stick to her dreams. Well, she stuck to it until she lost her voice. For a few months, she couldn’t make a sound, and when her voice came back, it was worse than before. It was then that she decided to pursue one of her other passions. She lost years, and her voice was trying to have what she couldn’t have.

Reason 4: We Live More in Our Imaginations

I remember as a child that each time we changed houses, I would conjure up these beautiful images of our new home in my head. Usually my mom and her friends would go clean up the place and set it in order. As they talked about the house, the rooms, the large spaces, and the neighbors, I would see them in my mind’s eyes and look forward to moving with so much joy and gladness. Alas, when we get there, I will be so disappointed, not because the house wasn’t what my mom said it was but because I had lived with a picture in my mind and it wasn’t real. I forgot that my parents did not have the kind of money needed for my dream house.

Why do we want what we can’t have? We have created a vivid imagination of it; that’s why.

Reason 5: We Feel Threatened

Ketut Subiyanto, Pexels

When we realize we can’t have something, it triggers a feeling of fear and a threat to our safety. We suddenly feel we will be robbed of it and go to great lengths to get it. On the other hand, this feeling can lead to obsession, making us view this thing or person as an object we must own. It’s safe to assume you know the damaging results of obsession.

For example, a lady is in a relationship with a man, and they break up. She suddenly feels threatened because she has built her whole world around him, and when she tries to woo him back unsuccessfully, her fear heightens.

She might go as far as physically assaulting him, stalking him, threatening his family, or even the new lady he is with, all because she wants what she can’t have anymore.

Reason 6: We Love The Thrill Of A Chase

If you ask a guy why he continues pestering the girl who said “no” to him, he’ll tell you he’s enjoying the chase. Some people know they can’t get what they want, but they still chase after it anyway. This is because the chase makes them feel high and exhilarated. Their bodies release dopamine, which keeps them on cloud nine. It energizes them, and they will go over and over again.

When something looks unavailable, that is when it is more appealing and has more value for the person who wants it.

Reason 7: The Scarcity Effect

I’ll illustrate this simply. You love oranges and would eat them any day and anytime. Then one day, you walk into the store and see people scrambling for mangoes. You find out the price has increased and there is a shortage. Just in front of you is a box of mangoes, and your body is angled in such a position that others looking for it don’t know it’s there. You quickly grab the box, add it to your cart, pay for it, and take it home. It sits in your refrigerator for days, and you can’t even eat it because you don’t like mangoes until your friend who eats mangoes sees it and asks questions. You can’t tell why you bought it because you don’t even like mangoes.

That is the “scarcity effect.” When you see something that is expensive or rare, you quickly want to grab it over something that is abundant.

At that point, you don’t care whether you want it or not. You just want to know you have what everyone else is looking for. Pretty much, right?

This attitude is a recurring theme in many American high school dramas. A new car model just dropped, and a student pulls up at school with it. He had pestered his parents until they got it for him. He wants to be the first and only one to have it. When another classmate comes with the same car the next day, he gets angry and looks for something else he would be the first to get. It’s crazy! Let me also add that this is fueled by wanting to feel validated and to have a higher social status than other people.

We started with the question, “Why do we want what we can’t have?” We have first seen that it is a universal problem, and we have seen the answers and explanations with examples of why we feel that way.

I must say, however, that this attitude is not a healthy one. The energy we spend chasing things we can’t have would have been spent building things we have to the point where we become a force to work with.

I do hope that now that you have the answers, you will do something to address this habit. I also hope you have gotten clear answers as to why people want what they can’t have.

Sign Up for More!Subscribe to our newsletter to have first-hand access to our special offers and life tips.

More resources

Leave a Comment