Like anyone else, I love the occasional retail therapy fix. The late great Linda Goodman once described buying beautiful things for either ourselves or our homes as ‘hyacinths for the soul’ and believed this was part of attracting abundance into our lives. However, there’s a big difference between treating ourselves to a lovely outfit or beautiful object for our homes that we use and appreciate and which gives us a sense of self-worth and accomplishment to have acquired, and using retail therapy and buying ‘stuff’ to fill holes in our lives.
A recent study revealed that 50% of Americans used shopping as a way to cheer themselves up – shopping after all delivers a feel good ‘hit’ – which sadly like any other coping mechanism, wears off quickly and leaves us craving another fix. We also have consumerism and the ‘throwaway culture’ it has created contributing to environmental damage and the exploitation of third world workers. But new studies now reveal the dark side to the ‘shop till you drop’ mentality for anyone who gets trapped within it – and I’m not just talking about spiralling credit card debt here. Professor Rik Pieters of Tilburg University in the Netherlands has studied the reasons consumers shop for over six years and has uncovered links between shopping, loneliness and lack of self-worth. He asked participants how much they agreed with statements like ‘It’s important to have lots of things in life’ and ‘I enjoy buying things that are not practical’ while also testing them for loneliness. From this he identified three distinct groups of ‘shoppers’.
One group treated shopping as a ”drug” to lift their spirits or give them a buzz. Prof. Pieters discovered that this group in particular felt something was missing in their lives and bought things in an attempt to fill the void. The second group constantly compared themselves to others and bought new things to boost their self-worth. They measured how much they had to how well they were doing in life and agreed with statements in the test like ‘’I admire people who own expensive things’’. Prof. Pieters found that participants who fell into these two groups became more and more lonely over time and became stuck in a ”loneliness loop” – the more they shopped, the more isolated they felt and the lonelier they were. And so the more they shopped.
”Valuing material possessions as a measure of success and as a medicine for happiness were associated with increases in loneliness over time and loneliness, in its turn, was associated with increases in these subtypes of materialism,” Pieters said. ”Jointly, this forms the vicious side of the materialism-loneliness cycle, which perpetuates once it is formed.”
However, the third group of ‘shoppers’ told a more positive story and appeared to fit more into Linda Goodman’s ‘hyacinths of the soul’ category. These people appreciated life’s luxuries but saw them as part of what the professor terms as ‘happy hedonism’ – there to enjoy but they could take them or leave them.
So, if this article has pushed a few buttons for you and you are worried about the reasons why you shop, what can you do?
1: Know that you are a unique soul. You are not defined by the ‘things’ you own or labels you wear. Comparing yourself to others will only make you feel more inadequate and at that point it won’t matter if you are wearing Prada or Primark. Start to appreciate your unique qualities. You are not a label. You are an original.
2: Stop buying things. Buy experiences. If you’re shopping because you are lonely then you need to shop for experiences rather than material goods. What do you enjoy doing aside from shopping? Perhaps it’s time to reconnect to hobbies and activities you enjoyed in your childhood or when you had less money to spend. Join a group, take lessons, get involved. You’ll connect with like-minded people and make new friends which will fill the loneliness void and you’ll enjoy yourself while doing it (and stay away from the mall and on-line sites as you do!).
3: Don’t go for the quick fix. We all enjoy the occasional splurge. I’m not saying you have to give up shopping – terrible fate! But instead of going out all the time and buying something you can have right now consider saving up and buying the thing you really and truly would love to have. Delayed gratification can be the best fix of all if you think about how amazing you would feel having reached that savings milestone and walk out of the store in those brand new Jimmy Choos or buy yourself that expensive piece of real jewellery instead of just loads of costume pieces.
4: Make a date with friends to shop. Don’t go out alone. Go with a friend and make a day of it with a nice lunch. Also, when you go out enjoy the time together and focus on that rather than what you may buy. You may find you actually don’t need to buy anything unless you really, truly love it. Practice trying things on and then putting them back and saying ‘I’ll think about it’. Chances are it will still be there if you still love it later!
Shopping for the right reasons is all about receiving abundance in our lives. Yes, you ARE worth it. Just don’t buy into shopping for all the wrong reasons.
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