Shopping Therapy

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A recent study from TNS Global, a global marketing research company, along with Ebates, just completed a study that focused on shopping habits and how people use shopping as a way to feel better about oneself and about life. The conclusion? There is no small amount of people that use shopping therapeutically, as a way to improve their mood. Have a bad day at work? Shop. Get into an argument with your girlfriend/boyfriend? Shop. Feeling down about life or get some bad news about something? Shop. Need to stuff negative emotions? Shop.

In the study a whopping 64% of women admitted that they use shopping as a way to reduce stress; to feel better about themselves or life, and elevate mood (shopping is fun). What’s surprising is that 39% of men admitted the same thing! In other words, roughly 4 out of 10 guys admitted in the interview that they go out to spend money as a way to feel better! What caught  my attention is that generally women use retail to function as sort of this Cartesian mantra… “I shop, therefore I am.” However, with men it’s different. The study shows that men don’t use retail, they choose food as a way to elevate mood! In their case, “I eat, therefore I am”  is literally true when you think about how many overweight men there are…

It reminded me of James KA Smith’s book Desiring the Kingdom. Smith’s thesis is that while we can teach Christian “worldview” to people, the underlying narratives of culture are far too pervasive and strong for any cognitive belief to overturn them. In other words, you can learn propositions about God, about life, and self and yet those often seem powerless against the deep “pull” of messages that you receive from the culture. There is something about habits of culture that inform us who we are, what’s really important in life, and what the actual good life is. In particular, Smith points out that retail shopping has its own “worship liturgy” as there are automatic habits of the heart that seek to answer these questions. That’s why it’s so powerful… people have spent their whole life “training” themselves to respond by using shopping or food not only to dull pain but to elevate mood.

A friend once said that there is an infinite hole in your heart that can only be filled by an infinite person. That explained to me why trying to fill it with anything that is less than eternal is doomed to fail. It might fill up the emptiness and give my life temporal “meaning”. But that can’t be sustained. That is why it is the natural tendency of the heart to use things and people to fill us by sucking the life and love out of them and then discard them for something else. Only an eternal perfect person can fill an eternal void…

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