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Thought-Provoking Thursday: Is Shopping The Key To Happiness?

When Friday Night Lights author Buzz Bissinger came out as a shopping addict in April — and revealed that he has spent over $600,000 on Gucci leather — the reaction he received was one of shock and awe (granted, the story was pretty steamy). People wondered: How could a person spend $600,000 on leather? (Dropping $22,000 on just one coat, as Bissinger once did, gets you there pretty quickly.) More importantly, why wasn’t he able to stop himself before he hit the six-figure mark? The answer, according to a new study, has to do with materialism and the search for happiness.

iStock_shopping bagsIn a study out of July’s Journal of Economic Psychology, researchers Grant Donnelly, Masha Ksendzova and Ryan T. Howell found that compulsive buying habits are tied to the combination of a person’s materialistic tendencies and emotional shopping motivations — and that people who feel compelled to continuously buy things do so because they believe it will transform their life and lead to happiness.

“Materialists are caught in this strange cycle where they’re trying to get along with people and they [think] their acquisitions will help them get along with people,” Howell said in a recent phone interview. Yet ultimately, this attempt to achieve social happiness backfires, Howell explained. “We have these negative feelings towards compulsive shoppers, which probably makes them feel more isolated and puts them back in this vicious cycle of buying more to get back in the group… and ultimately not working.”

Howell noted that this study is not trying to say that all materialistic people are doomed to compulsively shop; his research simply provided a correlation. And for shoppers who do have a compulsive habit, he says there are ways to stop the “buy, buy, buy” tendency.

To start, spend with cash, not credit. “There is a pain associated with parting with cash [more] than swiping a credit card. If you identify yourself as a compulsive buyer and only pay in cash, you’d probably see your consumption drop dramatically,” he said.

Next, question your motives for buying the particular item you’re holding. Are you really going to use it? Be honest. Howell noted that letting go of unrealistic expectations about the item’s effect can decrease your chances of heading to the cash register.

“People over-expect [and think] ‘I’m going to use it every day for hours and I’m going to be so much better and popular and happier,’” he said. “If you can check your expectations about how much this product will transform your life and how much it won’t, those things together will decrease the likelihood that you buy something just for consumption purposes.”

And finally, if you really insist on buying something because you think it will make you happier, buy an experience rather than a material item. There’s scientific evidence to show that this really will increase your happiness. In a separate study, Howell found that participants who spent money on “life experiences” reported a greater sense of happiness than people who spent their money on a material good.

“I can’t tell you what types of purchases will bring you closer to your friends and family,” Howell cautioned. “I can tell you that if you spend your money on life experiences they do tend to bring you closer and make you happy.”

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