When shopping is a problem

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Many of my friends and clients spend lots of time shopping. Shopping has become a form of entertainment. Many of us happiness-seekers have big problems with delayed gratification, especially when advertising tells us, "Get it now, don’t wait, only an idiot would be patient." So we focus on accumulating as much cool stuff as we can.

That L’Oreal commercial "Because I’m worth it" sums it all up. As an advertising slogan, it’s awfully good. It messes with our heads because…of course we’re worth it.  We’re worth whatever we want.  Don’t we deserve whatever we want? This kind of thinking can suck anyone into a whirlpool of spending, temporary satisfaction, and – ultimately – depression that leads to more spending and eventual debt. Debt does not equal happiness, can we agree on that? Here is a recent email that nicely wraps up (pun intended) the situation:

Dear Michael:

I am embarrassed to be Emailing you, but here goes: I can’t stop buying myself stuff. I am $84,000 in debt from several years of continual shopping (I make less than half that amount as my yearly salary). How do I get out of this hole?  Whenever I feel down, I go shopping.  I would like to stop this bad habit, but how?  Life is so hard…don’t I deserve to have nice things to comfort me when I feel bad?  

In Hock in Mission Hills

Dear Mr. Hock:

Thanks for having the guts to email me. I imagine this isn’t an easy thing to confess; I admire your honesty. So here’s mine in return: yes, you do deserve to have nice things when you feel bad, but do they need to cost $84,000? And, my friend, a debt of more than twice your annual salary will not bring you comfort. It’s more likely bringing you a whole lot of stress and unhappiness. 

You deserve comfort when you feel bad, but, brother, this ain’t it. Comfort doesn’t have a hidden price tag that will come back and bite you in the ass when the credit card bills come flooding in. Comfort comes from taking a good long look at yourself and asking "Why am I so depressed/angry/lonely/sad?"  Go to the root of the problem, and stop with the $84,000 band-aids already!

We all want to be happy and sometimes being a good consumer looks like an easy path to get there. Really good advertising – and there’s a lot of it around these days – tries to manipulate our emotions. As a result, it’s no surprise that so many of us feel we’re not living up to our (earning/achieving/sexual) potential and are cosmic losers. This doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy nice things. But, it’s wise not to make them the most important thing in your life. If you have money and beautiful objects, great!  But if you don’t, can you be okay with that too? Or will it suck you down into depression? 

Read more at Life Beyond Therapy.