Why Do We Want What We Can't Have? 5 Reasons & Cure

From a rational point of view, most people understand that one of the keys to happiness is that we try our best to be satisfied with what we have.  For example, we should be grateful with the fact that our parents give us the chance to be alive in this world and we should be okay or even happy with whatever life throws at us.  However, this is two problems:

  1. most people are not as rational as they think they are
  2. the logical part of our mind very often fails to control the emotional part of our mind, and that allows the emotional part to be the main driver of a lot of our actions

Now, what can we do?  We can learn to be more mindful.  We can also learn a little bit more about "why we want what we can't have", so the logical part of our mind has some additional knowledge which may help convince the emotional part.   

Here are 5 reasons why we want what we can't have:

1. People Think the Grass is Always Greener on the Other Side

The "grass is greener" syndrome happens everywhere.  Random thoughts like the following are just some of the many examples you can easily observe: 

  • My spouse's job is always easier
  • Being a freelancer should make me feel way better than having a full time job
  • Startup X, Y, and Z just raised 10 million dollars of funding.  Maybe I should start my own startup too
  • If I can moved to country ABC, my life and my family's life would be much better

It's probably just human nature to have this "grass is greener" syndrome.  But if we are aware of the irrationality of some of those thoughts, we can avoid being misguided by these thoughts. 

For example, let's say if I am aware of the thought of "country ABC is much better than the country I am living in", I can start doubting myself:

Is it really true?  Answer: probably not. 

Why would I have this thought?  Answer: I read about how bad my country is from the news all the time.   

Does the news in country ABC say bad things about country ABC?  Answer: Yes.

Why does the news in almost every country always say bad things about the country?  Answer: There are always good things and bad things happening everywhere.  The news sell much better when they talk about bad things.  

Why does the news sells much better when they talk about bad things?  Answer: It's our human nature to want to see bad things.  Our ancestors from thousands of years ago need to focus about potentially dangerous things in order to survive.  And guess what?  We are the children of the survivors that have the focus-on-bad-things genes.  Ask yourself - which video has more views: singer A has released a new music album, or singer A had an affair?

Remember to doubt everything.  It may sound counter-intuitive.  But doubting everything actually helps you find inner peace.   

2. People are Bored with What They Already Have

If we don't need something new, there is not going to be any new restaurant.  We will all just stick to our favorite food.  I am not saying if that's good or bad.  I am saying that being aware of that tendency is helpful.  It's interesting to know that Warren Buffet, a super rational person and probably the most successful investor, orders McDonald's breakfast every morning.  If you are rational too, you probably know exactly what you like to eat and what tastes good to you.  Having a bunch of friends posting food pictures on Instagram isn't going to move your heart a single inch.  

3. People Want to Prove to Others that They Deserve to Have Something Expensive or Special

If I have that car, I would look so cool.  If I live in a big house in that city, my friends will see me as a successful person.   Really?  Do your friends and other people actually care?  Does how people look at you make you any different.  No, you are not the image you try to project to others.  

4. The Social Media Makes the Ego Even Bigger

Things get really bad in this social media era.  There are so many people that design their lives according to how they can get "views" and "likes" on social media.  It's really sad to see people who can't get away from their phone.  They can get really happy and excited when their posts have a lot of "likes".  But is that true happiness?  Are we playing with our smartphones? Or are our smart phones playing with us?  

5. People Think They Can Use New Things to Heal Existing Life's Loneliness & Flaws

When we have some obstacles in our lives, we often think that getting something special and new can turn the game around.  When we have a bad week at work, we may think that getting a new job is the only way to go.  That can be true sometimes but definitely not all the time.  We should instead look at the root cause of the problem.  What's the reason for having a bad week at work?  Maybe it's just that you are not being productive due to a lack of sleep.  Remember that new things are not always better, and are not always worse.  


I would like to share a quote to emphasize the importance of being rational.  I truly believe that being rational is one of the keys to happiness and success.  Being rational is also a key to mindfulness.  Charlie Munger, a successful investor and one of the wisest people in the world, once was asked what made him more successful than most people.  He said, "I am rational".  

How to Stop Complaining: Change It, Leave It, or Accept It
How to Stop Assuming: 10 Expert-Backed Ways
How to Meditate Without Your Eyes Closed: Do It in a Cafe
8 Life-Changing Quotes From Jim Rohn to Make You a Better Person
Don't Think Positive. Try the WOOP Technique Instead.
Forget Motivation. Reach Goals with "Implementation Intention"
How to Stop Wasting Your Life: 42 Simple Ways
Why You Need a Bullet Journal in Your Life and How to Use It
How to Master Your Craft by Copying Others: 6 Practical Tips
How to Overcome Laziness: 23 Practical Tips from Great Books
9 Life Lessons From Leo Tolstoy’s Quotes
Am I Shallow? Transforming Your Habits with Deep Work
How to Change Your Behavior and Create Habits: Tiny Can Be Big
What Are the 5 Keys to Success: Goals, Grit, Habits & More