Everybody has ups and downs in life, sometimes really big ups and downs. For the past countless number of decades, shopping has been promoted as the thing to do when you’re feeling down (or up for that matter but that’s another blog.) We have to remember the groups behind this messaging profit significantly from anyone who goes out for some “retail therapy.”
So why does it work and not work?
Well, the initial dopamine rush from the purchase feels good. That’s what dopamine does to us, it’s an “upper” and stimulates the motivation center of our brain, the same part stimulated by video games. The effect doesn’t last though, and when the dopamine levels come back down, buyer’s remorse is often what we’re left feeling instead of the elated feeling we were originally looking for. Cortisol and other stress drugs lead us to feel stressed. Unfortunately, this negative feeling can lead to more purchases and a painful pain pleasure vicious cycle begins. This spiral can lead to serious financial challenges and more regret, guilt, “I am not good with money”, and other damaging negative self-talk. You wouldn’t tell your best friend to stay in an abusive relationship, would you?
Start with forgiveness – For Yourself
We’ve all made money and shopping decisions we regret OK? You are not alone, and you aren’t stupid. Our brains are wired to take action on what we want, that’s what kept us alive during ancient times. Plus, we have the influences of millions of dollars of very strategic and effective marketing telling us to buy because we will be happier, sexier, cooler and on and on. But that reactionary impulse needs to be dealt with differently now, awareness and self-control are necessary, not a fight or flight response!
We have been told virtually our entire lives through massive marketing machines to buy when we feel emotional. But as we all know too well, that dress, shoes or tech toy are not going to make you permanently happy, and your life is not going to be substantially “better”. That peace of mind and inner feeling comes from living in alignment with your values, not the accumulation of goods. The highly promoted shopping escapism is not your fault, but you do need to take control now, as of today if it’s impacting your life. Forgive yourself for past mistakes and choose to take different actions steps moving forward so you do things that benefit your life and well-being, rather than hurt it.
What Makes You Happy Inside?
What do you enjoy? Make a list and turn to it when you want to do something, whether you’re feeling up or down.
Some of the things that research has proven over and over to make us humans feel great:
Spend time in nature
Connect with someone whose company you enjoy
Exercise, dance, move the way you were meant to!
Meditate, drive, dream – allow your thoughts to be free
Set goals that inspire you and decide the first step to move in that direction
Journal and write with deliberate gratitude
Read an inspiring book
Help someone else
Notice social media is NOT on this list
The bottom line is this, no purchase can make us happy long-term because an item simply isn’t as important as things like human connection, health, contribution to others, living with integrity, and leading a meaningful life – whatever we define that as.