Shopaholic is a fairly throwaway term, it even features in the title of a series of novels and a comedy film, but could there be a darker truth to this jokey admission? Could your spending be out of control because you’re addicted to consumerism in the same way that a heroin addict is to their next fix or an alcoholic to booze? Some people certainly think so, and they’re serious people. Peter Whybrow is a director of the UCLA Semel Institute on Neuroscience and Human Behavior and his book, “American Mania: When More Is Not Enough” diagnoses the problem.
You Can’t Buy Happiness
Dr Whybrow is a particular expert on bipolar disorder (formerly called manic depression) and has previously written on depression and other mental health disorders. Whybrow’s thesis is that while Americans can buy almost anything they want and strive to improve their financial health throughout their lives, many of us struggle to find real, long-term happiness and contentment.
Our brains are very ancient machines. They are fantastic, adaptable things that have helped us create societies of enormous complexity, but they evolved around 200,000 years ago when their chief purpose was to keep the body alive in a world of scarce resources and constant competition and threat. Putting this system into an economic context where there is almost no limit on the products available could be leading us into addictive spending according to Whybrow.
A National Problem
Some reviewers of the book have taken its prime theory to be applicable to not just individuals, but to the whole American economy. Religions have generally made some sort of restraint on acquisitive behavior part of their core message, possibly in acknowledgement of this historic problem. Governments however, do not major on restraint. This could be leading America to seek more power and influence than it can really afford, dooming the nation to same demise as previous great empires have suffered – overreaching military ambition and too much comfort at home are simply costing too much. It’s not just in the States either. British psychologist, Oliver James, has written on what he calls Affluenza, a sickness of the mind produced by rampant consumerism and which he finds in almost all developed economies. The extent to which shopping can be medically diagnosed as an addiction will always be controversial. Labelling behaviors such as indulging in casual sex or compulsively gaming addictions puts them on the same level as substances which have a physical hold on their users, like alcohol and heroin. However, psychologists certainly recognize the problem and offer treatment just as they would for any addiction. Low self-esteem is likely to be at the root of the problem for many sufferers of what is called oniomania.
A Way Ahead
Addictive consumption then is likely to make you unhappy, it’s also going to contribute to financial problems. Relatively easy credit has helped fuel consumer booms in recent times and the collapse of that credit led to the financial crash of 2008. If you are spending too much and you feel out of control of your credit cards, what can you do? You could try counselling of course, or see a psychologist. A recent British study tried making use of a form of meditation called mindfulness to help replace the buzz found in purchasing and purchasing. It’s a treatment that has been used with some success in treating other addictions.
You have to wonder about the health of a society which now supports a website to track the deaths and injuries on its biggest discount day, Black Friday. This year, the hashtag #WalmartFights started trending on Twitter as the battle for cheap goods became physical and violent. BlackFridayDeathCount.com does exactly what it says, fortunately in 2013 there were no deaths to report. This year the Black Friday openings were shifted to Thanksgiving itself, and while no one lost their lives, a man was shot by police in Chicago, a Las Vegas shopper was robbed at gunpoint on his way home from the sales, and a police officer had his wrist broken in a fight in a queue in a Californian Walmart. Workers protested too – if the stores open, that’s the end of Thanksgiving for them.
Originally posted 2013-12-08 17:46:27.