Scarcity Mentality: Why you aren’t happy when you’ve got it so good

Starving child

Food has never been cheaper. Houses never warmer in the winter or cooler in the summer. People not only live longer, but they stay healthier longer. Information about almost anything is at your fingertips. Crime and violence, by any objective measure, is at an all-time low. There’s opportunity to travel in less than 24 hours to almost anywhere in the world. If you did, and if you went to a poor country, you would see how good you have it. If you have it this good, why aren’t you happy?

Maybe you are happy, I shouldn’t assume too much, but many who have it this good aren’t. You know them. You live with them, work with them, hear their horns honking behind you the moment the light turns green. Why aren’t they happy, when they have it as good as you?

In my last post I talked about Rat Park and how, simply by making lab rats happy, we can make them addiction proof. It doesn’t work that way with humans. Well, why not?

We’re not rats.

In many ways, we’re just like rats. We eat, shit, die, and rot just like any animal. But, unlike any animal, we know it. We’re self-conscious. That makes all the difference. I can’t get into all the ways that makes a difference in one little post; the whole blog is about that, but here’s one way:

The key to being unhappy when you’ve got it good is to assume that the good things you have are finite. There is only so much pie. So, if you want pie, you’ve got to fight to ensure you get your fair share. Then, if you eat your pie, you can’t keep it; it’s gone. If you don’t eat your pie, someone else might take it. Even if you have enough pie, someone may have more, indicating an injustice that might be a problem some other time, so you better object now, while you have the chance.

We call this assumption a scarcity mentality. It’s a pretty good way of being miserable when you could be happy.

The alternative is called an abundance mentality. That’s an assumption that there’s plenty more where that came from; easy come, easy go. So what if you ran out of pie? You can always make more. An abundance mentality enables you to be generous, forgiving, patient, and trusting.

Between the two, it’s easy to see that having an abundance mentality can make you a happier person. So, what’s the problem? Have an abundance mentality and be happy.

The problem is you’re going to die, and you know it.

If you know you are going to die, that means you know you only have so much time. There are limits. Things are finite.

Despite all this, having an abundance mentality is a very, very good thing. People have different ways of getting around this problem. They know that it is better to be trusting, forgiving, generous, and patient, but they also know it is difficult, or impossible, to do so when they must compete with others over limited resources, within limited time. So, what do they do to maintain a mentality of abundance?

They can deny the limits, extend the limits, and accept the limits.

Those who deny the limits try not to think about them. They shut out thoughts of death. They don’t like to be reminded that, although they may live in plenty, there are others who live in want. They protect themselves from disturbing images, dissenting voices, rotten smells, and uncomfortable vibes. There are many things available to help them live in the big rock candy mountain. Everything from alcohol and drugs to gated communities, self congratulatory media, repressive immigration policies, polite conversation, and the remote to the TV. With the assistance of these tools, they can go on believing they can live forever, they can have whatever they want, and no one needs to get hurt. Then they can be patient and kind and keep their abundance mentality, so long as things continue to go their way.

Those who extend the limits are the people who bake plenty of pies so everyone can have some. They take care of their health so they can live longer. They cure diseases so everyone can live longer. They plant trees so everyone can eat, build buildings so everyone can have a home, and conserve resources so everyone can have what they want. These are the heroes of science, technology, and philanthropy. They do great things so that their name and their deeds will live on long past them. They attach themselves to causes larger than themselves. They have faith that there is more than they know. They believe in the infinite. In these ways, they create abundance in the face of scarcity. We would not have civilization without them. They die, too; but when they do, we say that their lives mattered.

People often say they don’t understand what it means to accept the limits. You do it all the time. No matter how much you eat, the time comes when you put your fork down. Even if you’re a shopaholic, the point comes when you finish shopping. Every night when you turn out the light and go to sleep, you rehearse death. You say, enough is enough, I’m tired. You say it all the time. Accepting limits means recognizing that, while there may be only so much pie, there’s only so much pie you can eat.

Use any of these methods to create an abundance mentality, you’ll be happier when you do.

Published by Keith R Wilson

I'm a licensed mental health counselor and certified alcohol and substance abuse counselor in private practice with more than 30 years experience. My newest book is The Road to Reconciliation: A Comprehensive Guide to Peace When Relationships Go Bad. I recently published a workbook connected to it titled, How to Make an Apology You’ll Never Have to Make Again. I also have another self help book, Constructive Conflict: Building Something Good Out of All Those Arguments. I’ve also published two novels, a satire of the mental health field: Fate’s Janitors: Mopping Up Madness at a Mental Health Clinic, and Intersections , which takes readers on a road trip with a suicidal therapist. If you prefer your reading in easily digestible bits, with or without with pictures, I have created a Twitter account @theshrinkslinks. MyFacebook page is called Keith R Wilson – Author.

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