Why do we want what we can’t have?

We can’t ignore it. It’s everywhere and the impact it is having is devastating. At the time of writing this, 10,000 people have lost their lives to it.

Covid-19 or Coronavirus.

Globally, people have been told to stay at home, only leave for essential journeys and then they must social distance. If they do not follow this they can be fined, in some counties, jailed.

Why is it then that some people still go about their daily lives like nothing is happening? Why on the first weekend of restrictions in Great Britain, thousands flocked to the seaside? There was the highest number of visitors to Snowdon mountain on record, why?

Why is it that people want what they can’t have? Do what they’ve been told not to?

Arguably, some of these people, when they can do these things, don’t. Why now?

Is this instinctual? Is it in our DNA?

A study, published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology in 2009, introduced an experiment where single women were shown the same photograph of their dream man. Half of the group were told he was single and available, the other half that he was in a relationship. In the group who believed he was single, 59% were interested in going after him. What about the group that thought he was in a relationship? 90%. Yes, 90% of them were interested in going after him.

Why is this? Is something that’s wrong, more exciting? Is it in our nature to want to ‘win’?

There would certainly be positives to this. Imagine if someone said to you, “You’ll never get that job!” But the negatives can cause us to step beyond the moral finish line.

George Loewenstein talks about a theory he has coined called Information Gap Theory. According to him, when we feel a gap between what we know and what we want to know, or what we do and what we want to do, we become more curious. So, to satisfy this curiosity, we will do whatever it takes to bridge the gap. Whatever it takes.

Humans are notoriously curious and when told we can’t do it, we want to even more, even if we’ve never wanted to do that before.

Psychologists refer to this behaviour as reactance. It’s a type of mechanism where our brain wants to ensure that we are free to do whatever it is we want to do. It’s defined as;

‘Resentment of the loss of a freedom and so will rebel by doing the opposite of what we are told’

So, we understand why we do it, but why do we do it? Surely common sense would come in to play here?

Benjamin Franklin once said that, “The problem with common sense is, it isn’t.”

We are prone to faulty thinking, errors in reasoning, making mistakes. There is a website and a series of books called The Darwin awards, which catalogues the ways in which people have managed to injure or kill themselves, not on purpose. Examples being strapping fireworks to themselves, climbing Pylons to get better pictures of events. Yes, we actually need protecting from ourselves.

Even a major pandemic, the first in our lifetime, people still continue to do exactly the opposite to what they are being asked to do.

What can we do about it? Probably nothing for others. But we can for ourselves.

Before you do anything, ask yourself, will this endanger the ones that I love? Will this mean that my loved ones may not see me again? What will they do without me? How would I feel if I never saw my loved ones again?

Sound a bit dramatic? Well maybe we need to get a bit more dramatic in order to find that common sense that is out there somewhere, that is hidden deep in our conscious, that means that we can be proud of our decisions rather than rolling out the old “Hindsight is a wonderful thing” waffle.

Let’s be proud of our behaviours. Let’s judge ourselves on our behaviours. Let’s start now.

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