Nathanael Garrett Novosel, April 26 2023

Scarcity and Meaning

Most of us know that basic economics states that as supply falls for a good and demand stays high, the price will rise. This is because scarcity is what causes us to need to economize in the first place; if everything was unlimited, then we wouldn’t need to worry about production and consumption because everything would always be available. But since we live in the real world, the scarcity of a good means that it has to be provided to the person who either wins a lottery (i.e., rationing) or is willing to pay with the money they earned from their economic activity (i.e., pricing). Does this work elsewhere than just economics?

Well, it actually does. Just as if there is only one rare baseball card of an old, famous player, only having one type of a solar eclipse in your lifetime or one time witnessing a perfect game in person can have special meaning and significance to you. Whether this is inherent in humans to do this with life events or it is a side effect of how humans place value on material things that their peers do is not 100% clear. But it does work. Examples:

The list goes on and on. Rarity can enhance a sense of meaning and significance. Of course, the significance of the achievement is involved in this mental calculation, but the rarity is what takes it to the next level. When 100 people achieve something, you’ll likely only remember the first and the best of the bunch. When only a few people have, you might remember them all. People usually remember Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin for being the first people to walk on the moon, but few would be able to name Michael Collins, who was flying the command module while they were on the surface.

Scarcity will impact your perception of meaning and significance for things in your life. A wedding, a child/children, your parents, etc. will all have significance to you; after all, you don’t have many of them and they are important. But you will become attached to other things, such as a car, a home, a place, a friend, or a school. These are the things that matter much to you, and you won’t have many. So while there is a combination—since you won’t place much importance on the one time you have to get your driver’s license every several years—you will see rarity enhance significance. You will people talk about how they wish they could “capture a moment” that they know they’ll never have again and be able to go back to it since it was so special. It’s those special moments that take life to the next level.

On a final note, you’ll notice that appreciation is involved in this process. You appreciate desirable things that you have, but if they become commonplace you may begin to take them for granted. A third Super Bowl win won’t have the same feeling as the first, nor will any one have the same significance to a person who only won one. Beautiful people get compliments all of the time, whereas average-looking men might get complimented once or twice in their lifetimes by someone they don’t know and treasure it always. While you should generally appreciate the little things in life for a greater sense of fulfillment in life, appreciating the rare moments is just as important to enhance your overall sense of a life lived to the fullest.

If you want to feel alive, seek the occasional rare event: a concert, a special occasion, an accomplishment, etc. The moment will feel significant and increase the perceived significance of the life you lived. If you want moments to feel special with someone in your life, do the same: schedule an activity or event that may only happen once or twice in your life and share an experience that can create a lifetime connection or bond.

While I hope that you have an abundance of meaning in your life and many rare events to enhance your experience, remember that if you are ever feeling like life is too boring or uneventful that the occasional once-in-a-lifetime event can help change that and get you realizing how precious your life experience really is.

Written by

Nathanael Garrett Novosel


Previous Evidence and Belief
Next How Meaning Can Change