To Buy or Not To Buy

Why we overshop and how to stop.

Use Your Emotions and Intellect to Access “True Wealth”: A Crisis Is a Terrible Thing To Waste (Part V)

Part V of our Series

In this series of posts, we've been exploring ways to seize the opportunity that the economic crisis presents to overshoppers. Even before the downturn, of course, most compulsive buyers found themselves in a financial squeeze. But the new economic realities-the slashed value of retirement accounts, the credit crunch, the mortgage debacle, and the widespread loss of jobs and massive uncertainty about continuing employment-these have forced even the most ostrich-like overshoppers into a reality check.


When they do, when they examine their habit with a clear mind and a compassionate heart, nearly all acknowledge that the pull of shopping rises from somewhere underneath the things they buy. Shopping is for them a release, a drug that for a while-a little while-blunts the pain of unmet needs. Then the pain is back, worsened by the guilt and shame and secrecy that each new purchase adds.


Self-kindness offers a happy exit from this cycle. Finding healthy activities to fulfill your underlying needs releases you from having to bury those needs with overshopping and gains you access to "true wealth," those nonfinancial assets, different for everybody, that make life worth living. We've already sampled such activities for four kinds of needs: for Action, Spontaneity, Relaxation, and Sensual Joy. Today, we look at two more, Emotion and Intellect.

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Emotion: Emotions, both positive and negative, charge and direct a lot of overshopping. When we feel nostalgic, when we don't feel connected, when joy is absent, when we feel like celebrating-in these and a great many other emotional situations, we may feel driven to shop. Instead of shopping in response to your emotions, practice targeted self-kindness: find alternative activities that meet the emotional needs beyond your overshopping impulses. What emotionally satisfying alternatives to shopping might work for you? As always, try any of these that appeal and invent half a dozen others that might work for you.


• See a deeply human, moving film, an old classic perhaps.
• Spend time with a favorite animal.
• Volunteer to help someone who really needs your help.
• Attend an event or a performance that promises to be joyful.
• Learn by heart-and recite-a favorite poem.


Intellect: While you may not think of shopping as an intellectual pursuit, the puzzle-solving aspect of shopping motivates and energizes some people. It's an active pleasure for them to sort through an infinite number of choices, factoring in variables such as style, value, and utility, zeroing in on what says, "This is me." But there are so many other ways to experience cerebral delight, so many other puzzles to solve! What nonshopping joys of the mind can you suggest for yourself?


• Use the internet to improve yours skills in chess or Scrabble.
• Take a leadership role in an organization or a club you belong to.
• Read a challenging book and talk about it with someone.
• Take lessons and learn a new language.
• Learn to knit, draw, or meditate.
• Write anything, from a diary to a Wikipedia entry.


Next time, we'll conclude personalizing the landscape of self-kindness with two further categories, Discovery and Spirit.

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April Lane Benson, Ph.D., is the author of To Buy or Not to Buy: Why We Overshop and How to Stop. She specializes in the treatment of compulsive buying disorder.

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