Shopping Won’t Solve Your Problems

I once lived with a woman who suffered from an incredibly bizarre illness. Her symptoms included compulsive collecting, dumpster diving, and bargain shopping.

These behaviors would not normally cause any significant harm, but in addition to these compulsive behaviors, she had two other afflictions: she was incapable of organizing her possessions, and would never dispose of anything irrespective of its worth. As a result, her living quarters were always littered with rubbish, and the levels of clutter were constantly worsening.

One day the single light bulb adorning her bedroom ceiling burnt out. She couldn’t move a ladder, chair, or even a step stool into the center of her room so that she could change out the bulb — because with exception of one narrow path from the bedroom door to her bed, every inch of her floor was cluttered with tall stacks of boxes.

You might think she could try to reach the bulb by standing on her bed. Unfortunately, she couldn’t do that either — thanks to the stacks of boxes that had taken permanent residence as her bedmates.

Overwhelmed at the thought of having to clean up, her preferred solution was to go shopping.

She found a used standing lamp at a garage sale for only $4. She bought it, brought it home, set it inside one of the boxes on her bedroom floor, secured its base by placing a nearby Christmas tree stand against it, and then stretched its power cord to an outlet on the nearest wall.

As usual, she was completely blind as to how foolish her solution was. She also failed to notice how trashy her lifestyle had become. In her mind, she must’ve only been able to feel happiness in the form of relief — she had succeeded in postponing the need to face her problem thanks to the temporary solution going shopping had provided.

Although most people don’t have problems on the same level that this woman has, this story alerts me to a behavior that I believe is rather common: using shopping as a coping mechanism.

People shop when they need something specific, when they want the refreshing feeling of owning something new, and when they’re bored. Something about going shopping makes you feel more complete, which in turn can cause you to come back for more, even when you need nothing.

Imagine you go out to buy a new car, boat, house, wardrobe, stereo, computer, or whatever turns you on. You trade your money and buy whatever it is, and then as a result of your new purchase you feel happy, excited, fantastic, and perhaps even complete.

Now imagine the creation process of whatever it is you just bought. During what step of manufacturing did they add in the happy feeling that you experienced?

You have the means to feel happy on your own — you don’t need to use shopping, or any other form of entertainment, as a trigger for your happiness. When you do this, you’re only distracting yourself from your problems, loneliness, or unhappiness as a temporary solution.

This is the reason people are so easily addicted to shopping — they love the happy feeling but don’t understand how else to experience it, so they keep shopping to get their fix.

If you’re searching for the source of happiness, I don’t have an answer that’s specifically for you. I can explain where happiness is not found, but since everyone experiences happiness in a different way, there is no universal method of finding it. The best strategy I can suggest is to simply try new things — eventually you’ll discover how you can trigger that happy feeling without anything or anyone else being involved.

Should you choose to keep getting your happiness fix using temporary solutions, then I hope you don’t let it spiral out of control. That’s what the woman suffering from compulsive hoarding did, and there are no days left in her life where it doesn’t affect her and everyone around her.

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