Buying stuff to feel happy can be a slippery slope. Here’s how to catch yourself.
Many people come to therapy worrying that they spend too much time and money on things that mean too little. They may ask questions like:
- Am I addicted to shopping?
- Why do I need to buy things to feel better about myself?
- Why am I always feeling like I need more?
The answers to these questions are not straightforward. It often takes a good amount of time in psychotherapy to understand the root of the issue.
However, a quick way to assess whether you might have a shopping problem is to ask yourself if most of the statements, shown below, apply to you.
- You shop compulsively
- You shop to alleviate feelings of emptiness
- You shop in spite of negative financial consequences
- You shop in secret to avoid judgment from others
- You feel ashamed or guilty about your inability to stop buying things
If these statements describe you, you’re not alone. A 2015 meta-analysis showed that approximately five percent of Americans were compulsive buyers.
With social media marketing, targeted ads, and influencer culture coaxing more people to buy things to one-up each other, this percentage is likely to increase.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Here are three strategies to help you overcome your shopping addiction.
#1. Follow the twenty-four-hour rule
Let’s say you have made your mind up on buying expensive new shoes and all that’s left to do is fork over the money and wear them home.
Here’s what you could do: delay the purchase by exactly twenty-four hours.
Doing this will force you to go through a full day’s worth of challenges, joys, sorrows, and expenses without the new item. In other words, it no longer qualifies as an impulse buy. Once twenty-four hours have passed, you can use better judgment to decide whether or not the object is worth the cost.
#2. Don’t buy, just browse
Dopamine is the feel-good chemical that is released in our brains during pleasurable activities such as eating, sex, and, yes, shopping.
A classic paper published in Brain Research Reviews argues that dopamine has more to do with seeking out rewards rather than the satisfaction that the reward brings.
Similarly, Robert Sapolsky, a neuroscientist at Stanford University, suggests that our brains get their dopamine hits from the anticipation of a reward more than the reward itself.
This could explain why window shopping always feels great and why actually owning the object of desire tends to lose its charm quite quickly.
Here’s how you can extend these findings to your own shopping behavior. Set aside a few hours every week during which you can browse the things you want to own. In this way, you can enjoy all the positive benefits of shopping while avoiding its negative consequences.
#3. Buy things you can connect with
When shopping, a good rule of thumb to follow is this: buy low-volume and high-quality.
Buying things that are trendy may seem necessary to keep up with the Joneses, but it is wiser to buy things that you will not need to replace often — either because they always stay in vogue or because you develop a personal bond with them.
Such items (a high-end wristwatch, for instance) are generally built to last and retain their value much better than cheaper items.
A 2014 study published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology found that making purchases based on who you are as a person can increase your sense of control over your life. This can, in turn, decrease your reliance on buying more to feel more happiness.
Here’s a related bonus tip. Save up for your purchases and choose debit cards over credit cards. This will ensure you are more connected to the purchase due to the anticipation of owning it. It will also keep you from spending money you don’t yet have.
Engaging in problematic behaviors doesn’t necessarily mean you have an addiction. However, if you believe that your behaviors indicate dependence, one way to determine this is to speak to a certified mental health practitioner. In the meantime, apply these simple strategies to reduce the adverse effects of your shopping behaviors.