Why We Do What We Do

Have you ever wondered why people do what they do? Why do people act? Ludwig von Mises set out to answer just that question in his fantastic work, Human Action. In that book, he lays out three requirements for human action. First, you must have an unease with your current situation. Next, you must perceive a better situation. And, finally, you must believe that positive action will get you from where you are to where you want to be. These can be somewhat confusing, so let’s break them down.

Do you like your sofa? If you do, are you likely to go out and buy another one? If you don’t like your sofa, are you considering getting a new one? Not liking your sofa is an example of unease with your current situation. You do not like your sofa, so you want to relieve your unease with it.

Assuming you don’t like your sofa, how do you know can improve your situation? Perhaps you saw a commercial on TV for a new sofa, or you went to a furniture store. This is a presentation of the second requirement for human action; you perceive something better. If there were no new sofas, you would not pursue getting a new one, and therefore would not act. In our scenario you do see a new sofa, however, this is still not enough for you to act.

The last requirement for human action is the belief that positive action will get you from where you are to where you want to be. Where do you want to be? Sitting on a new sofa! Where are you now? Sitting on a crappy one. How do you get a new sofa? If you already have the money saved, you go buy a new one. This belief that going to the store and purchasing the new sofa will get you the new sofa results in you going to the store and buying a new sofa.

Consumer goods are an easy representation of this concept, however, it is just as valid with all of our actions. It applies to why we go to work, why we eat food, what food we choose to eat, the friends we have, the places we live, the relationships we cultivate, everything. If you can work through this framework, you can understand why you do what you do and why other people do what they do. I will go into this in further detail in subsequent posts. Thank you for reading, and I hope you stay tuned!

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