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Scarcity in Times of Abundance

“It’s not the man who has too little, but the man who craves more, that is poor.”  

– Seneca

We live in times of great abundance. We have “more” than at any other point in human history. We have access to more technology, information, and medical breakthroughs. Our homes are bigger, we own more cars, and food is always present (and in large quantities). So, with all this abundance, why does it feel like we have so little? 

Scarcity Mindset

The scarcity mindset is a zero-sum game. If you have more than me, you win and I lose. 1 + -1 = 0. Reality TV, social media, magazine ads, and billboards are all reminders of what we don’t have. There’s only one way to win: consume. But the scarcity mindset is about so much more than winning and losing. At its core, the scarcity mindset is about fear. It has origins going back thousands of years, to a time when food was scarce, and fear was an appropriate response - it was needed for survival.  

Fear is a powerful emotion. It’s triggered when there is a perceived threat to safety: both physical and psychological. When our safety is in question, eliminating the threat becomes our number-one priority. Thus, fear captures our attention and takes us from a place of abundance (look at all the possibilities) to scarcity (look at how much I have to lose). When it comes to consumption, the emotions that illicit the most fear are those that you lost and/or have less than others. 

Loss 

Do you like the feeling of losing? I didn’t think so. When it comes to consuming, nothing can get you to act now like the threat of losing out. 

Think about the last time you missed out on a major sale. It may still haunt you to this day. You experienced a missed opportunity. You lost. And worse, somebody else didn’t.

When you live in a state of mind where you’re always in a position to lose, fear is constantly present. To make matters worse, most of the “things” and outcomes that bring about the feeling of loss are out of our control. We can’t control retailers, we can’t control our bosses, and we can’t control our relationships. So, we hold onto what we can. We go into protector mode, avoid calculated risks, and we play to not lose. As a result, we place a greater value on our “stuff,” we become extra vigilant over sales and promotions for more “stuff” that we don’t need, and, worst of all, we instruct our ego to build a massive wall in an effort to separate us from any perceived threat of losing. This, in turn, prevents us from engaging in areas that bring about personal growth and development. Because the status quo represents safety.   

Less

How does it feel when you find out that a friend or colleague makes more money than you? Or when your friend shows up in a brand-new luxury car? Or when you see reality TV stars in mega mansions? 

“I have less!”

It’s a horrible feeling which makes you feel poor and cheated. “Why don’t I have what they have?” In this time of plenty, how is it possible that we experience this emotion? Because we’re under attack with messages and images of people with more. 

Brands pay celebrities and influencers to convince you that someone you follow (and think you know) has, or is experiencing, something fun and exciting. And you’re missing out. “Fear of missing out” (or “FOMO”) is a powerful emotion. It doesn’t matter how you feel about the celebrity, friend, or influencer. Whether you like, respect, or loathe them, the feeling is the same; you’re missing out. You have so little. 

Consumption lessens the threat in the short term. Once you have the thing, the danger of less is gone. But it's only temporary, because consuming “it” doesn’t change the fact that it’s just an “it” or “thing.” You feel great for a moment only to move towards the next “it” or “thing” you don’t have. It’s a destructive cycle. This is no way to live.

Abundance

Thankfully, you have an opportunity to reframe the conversation. Missing out on that sale? Good! Your closet is full anyway, and that money can go towards something more meaningful. Friend or reality star showing off their new watch? Try being happy for them. You lost nothing. 

You have a super computer in your pocket, access to a wealth of information in just one click, and cures to diseases that have wiped out previous generations. We live in an age of abundance, and adding more “stuff” is just clutter. Missing out on more “stuff” did you a favor. Missing out gives you back more time and space. 

Reframe Your Expectations

Expectations drive the feelings of loss and less. Because when you expect a certain outcome, you are now in a position to either win or lose. So, ask yourself, why do you have the expectation? Did you define the expectation? Did you do something to deserve the expected outcome? Did you want or expect this “thing” before seeing the ad or influencer? Was this “thing” missing in your life before you became aware of it?

Loss and Less are manufactured by you. They are just thoughts. You have the ability to reframe the conversation, to get out of the mental state of scarcity, and to a place of abundance. 

Say “Thanks” More Often

Financially secure and independent people make gratitude a daily practice. They stop and give thanks to, and for, all of the people, things, and experiences in their life. A great way to keep tabs on our blessings is through a gratitude journal. Take a moment to write down all of the good things and blessings in your life right now, even if it’s as simple as having appreciation for the fact that something catastrophic didn’t just happen. There are a lot of negative events or outcomes that could be happening right now that aren’t. But if they did, you would give close to anything to get back to your current state. Try writing in your gratitude journal when you wake up in the morning, or before bed, or at a random point throughout the day. You don’t even need to write it down. Just get in a practice of saying “Thanks.” I’ll let you in on a secret, if you can’t be thankful for everything you have in this moment, nothing will ever be enough. Your life isn’t perfect, but there’s a lot to be thankful for if you just stop, think, and express your gratitude. 

We all have the opportunity to create our own paradise or our own prisons. It all comes down to perception. You can be in paradise while waiting for a delayed flight, rationalizing with a screaming child, or walking in the pouring rain. And you can be in misery after a $50,000 bonus, living in a mansion, or flying on a private jet. Gratitude is paradise. It’s your choice.