Going once, going twice, gone!

Isn’t it great that we have money to buy things? Or is it? It seems like the world is only revolving about money nowadays. “Money, that’s what I want” is the title of a Beatles’ song and the Swedish group Abba also sang about “Money, money, money” as do countless other bands. Of course the goal of having money is to be able to buy things. Which in return would bring happiness. But given the amount of people needing uppers, there seems to be a lot of unhappiness going around despite all the stuff we have.

A long, long time ago, humans weren’t in the habit of buying things, or selling them for that matter. In fact, they didn’t have money. Everybody took care of their own needs. They went hunting and foraging for their food and found whatever else they needed in nature. When agriculture came about, barter made its entrance. If someone had a surplus of carrots, they traded the extra carrots for the leftover potatoes of someone else. With the onions of a third person, they all could make a nice hotchpotch.

Humans started out bartering. Money made its entrance later on. (© maitre rimthong – Pexels.com)

Specialisation was the key to a more efficient way of living. In stead of doing everything yourself, you could call in the help of other people who offered special services in exchange for something you had to offer. Finally, money entered the stage. You earn money by doing a job for someone who pays you, and with that money you can buy things or services offered by other people.

This is the predominant system in our modern world. But there are some tribes in remote corners of the world who are still completely self-supporting. They spend days walking to find prey, waiting patiently till it finally comes along, following it until the moment arrives when they are able to shoot it and take it home. Whereas we often have a supermarket just around the corner to buy everything we need, and we still complain if some product is temporarily sold out.

It seems lately our buying activity has gone over the edge. Our houses are full with things we don’t really need and actually never use. Shopping has become one of life’s necessities. So much so that it resulted in an officially recognised mental health problem: compulsive buying disorder or CBD. This is a condition marked by binge buying and subsequent financial hardship. According to research, more than one in twenty adults in the US suffer from the disorder. And they are certainly not only women. Nearly as many men as women have to go shopping compulsively.

Self-control turns out to be a finite commodity. (© Immortal shots – Pexels.com)

Compulsive buying disorder shouldn’t be mistaken with impulsive buying which many people engage in. Asking yourself the question “should I buy this when I have so much?” helps prevent to buy impulsively. It also lessens the desire for an unexpectedly encountered product and it lowers the willingness to pay for new products, according to American research. Reflecting on possessions can curb impulse buying. When tempted, remember in detail how you used any one of your possessions recently. This will quell the shopping urge and helps reduce unnecessary consumption.

But self-control turns out to be a finite commodity. It is depleted by use, as an American study using brain scans showed. The part of the brain that manages self-control fires with less intensity after prior exertion of self-control. In general, people have no problem recognising a temptation. They will keep on fighting it, but it gets ever more difficult not to give in.

Why do consumers around the world buy luxury goods? They do that for different reasons, international research turned out. Many luxury goods originate in France and the French apparently value luxury items because they are expensive and exclusive. Luxury isn’t for everyone. In the US, hedonism plays the biggest part. Americans buy luxury goods for self-fulfilment, as do Brazilians and people from India. Germans seem to focus more on function. Their emphasis lies on quality over prestige. The same goes true for Italians, Hungarians and Slovakians.

Neuromarketing deploys modern technologies to seduce consumers. (© NIMH – Wikipedia)

New marketing techniques make it ever more difficult to resist the bombardment of offers you can’t do without for the world. Producers and marketeers increasingly make use of a modern science called neuromarketing which is a combination of neuroscience and psychology. Deploying modern technologies like electroencephalography (EEG) and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) the neuromarketeers are looking into the brains of consumers. They try to find out how consumers make purchasing decisions and what responses they, or rather their brains, show to marketing stimuli. Their ultimate goal is to manipulate the real needs and wants of people to suit the needs and wants of the marketing interests of companies. To say it more strait-forward: to seduce consumers into buying their products or services even if they don’t need or want them.

Can money buy happiness? Using money to buy free time is linked to increased happiness, according to research in various countries. Money spent on time saving purchases, such as paying to delegate household chores like cleaning and cooking, resulted in greater life satisfaction. In daily life, few people spend money on time saving purchases. It might be a good idea to consider buying your way out of unpleasant experiences. It will generate similar benefits as from spending money on pleasant experiences.

Experiences lead to greater happiness than material possessions. You don’t get bored of happy memories. (© cottonbro – Pexels.com)

It is beyond doubt that buying life experiences rather than material possessions leads to greater happiness. Experiential purchases such as a meal out or theater tickets satisfy the need for social connectedness and generate feelings of being alive, regardless of the amount spent. They generate long-term satisfaction. You don’t get bored of happy memories like you do with material objects.

Of course if you have very little money and have to choose carefully on what to spend it, you may get happier from that pair of shoes you bought than from that visit to the cinema. And there’s another catch in buying life experiences. If you’re doing it to impress others, it won’t make you happier. Not only what you buy is important, but also why you buy it. Motivation appears to amplify or eliminate the happiness effect of a purchase, American research turned out.

The best way to acquire happiness, though, is to not buy at all. Buying less makes consumers happier, according to American research. It is linked to higher personal well-being and lower psychological distress. Having less and buying less can actually make us more satisfied and happier.

“The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it.”
Oscar Wilde, Irish author, poet and playwright

Shopping Addiction Scale

Shop till you drop. (© bruce mars – Pexels.com)

The University of Bergen in Norway has formulated a scale that uses seven basic criteria to identify shopping addiction.

All items are scored on the following scale: (0) Completely disagree, (1) Disagree, (2) Neither disagree nor agree, (3) Agree, and (4) Completely agree.

  • You think about shopping/buying things all the time.
  • You shop/buy things in order to change your mood.
  • You shop/buy so much that it negatively affects your daily obligations (e.g. school and work).
  • You feel you have to shop/buy more and more to obtain the same satisfaction as before.
  • You have decided to shop/buy less, but have not been able to do so.
  • You feel bad if you for some reason are prevented from shopping/buying things.
  • You shop/buy so much that it has impaired your well-being.

Scoring of “agree” or “completely agree” on at least four of the seven items may suggest that you are a shopping addict.


Auctioneer at Sotheby’s © Financial Times – Wikipedia

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