The Scarcity Principle

Sometimes simple stories metaphorically explain complex issues. This story is no exception so here goes. Once there was a man lost in the woods in winter. For many days he was without food, shelter or warm clothing. The weather was inclement and the exhausted man feared he would soon die. As luck would have it, he came upon a lovely cabin that was part of an estate owned by a wealthy land owner. The cold hungry man was taken in, fed, provided clothing and allowed to sleep comfortably in front of a warm fire. A few days later after seeing the plight of the man, the wealthy land owner gifted the cabin to the man along with land for growing a garden and meaningful work on the estate. At this point one might say that the man has all he needs in life…shelter, food, clothing and meaningful work. While the man was appreciative and happy over his new station in life, his dissatisfaction grew. He wanted more land, a bigger house, more possessions, etc. When and why do life’s necessities become not enough? How many people do we know, including ourselves, that are capable of being satisfied with the basic necessities? The answer, I suspect, is “very few.” This gnawing discontentment and lack of having enough, no matter how much we have, is the topic of this article; the scarcity principle.

In his New York Times bestselling book A New Earth, Eckhart Tolle speaks eloquently to human programming that drives incessant wanting and the need for more. Tolle explains that this deep-seated sense of dissatisfaction and incompleteness is expressed through a proclamation of not having enough. But in reality our egos are really saying that we are not enough and our shattered sense of self attempts fortification through acquisition. He further explains that wanting is valued more than actually having. Think about that. Have you ever wanted something so intensely that nothing could come between you and that object? Say, a new car. You work hard to acquire the new car, the euphoria is short lived and the ego is right back to wanting. The scarcity principle creates a vicious cycle, much like an addiction.

In another popular book by Tolle, The Power of Now, he elaborates further on human kind’s lack of wholeness; an incompleteness that the ego feeds with possessions, money, success, power and recognition. What exactly does Tolle mean when he writes about lacking wholeness? He is speaking of improper self-identification or identification with a thought system hinged on social status, education, physical appearance, relationships, etc. He does not condemn having possessions or getting an education or having relationships. But he warns that these things alone do not define us and will never provide the wholeness that people seek. Instead, our wholeness will be realized when we develop self love, self respect and a forgiving nature towards others.

Undoing the scarcity principle begins with self awareness. While Tolle recommends present moment awareness as a tool, there are other approaches as well. One psychological treatment that works to change patterns of thinking is called cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). The concept involves changing thought patterns, changing behavior and finally changing emotions and feelings. Simply put, change your thinking…change your life. A psychotherapist trained in CBT can guide you through undoing the scarcity principle, self identifying at a deeper more meaningful level and finally finding the peace, wholeness and contentment that we all desire.

Dr. Takos is a Newport Beach Psychologist specializing in the treatment of adolescents and adults suffering from depression, anxiety, and trauma-and stressor-related disorders.