WHY BUYING MAKES PEOPLE HAPPY

An inquest to define happiness elicits the following words from different people; well-being, satisfaction, cheerfulness, high spirits, merriment, laughter, blissful, financial security, great health, relationships and so on. Our respective profession also provides us immense sense of happiness. Pavarotti was happy when he was in operatic singing. His famous last words ‘I believe that a life lived for music is an existence spent wonderfully, and this is what I’ve dedicated my life to.’ Van Gogh was happy when he could paint. After his death his painting ‘Portrait of Dr. Gachet’ fetched $ 82 million but in his entire life, in spite of producing about 2000 creations, he just sold one painting (The Red Vineyard for 400 Francs). Van Gogh died penniless at 37 but the artistic journey made him happy and not the destination. He spent his time immersed in beauty, capturing it from his perspective and rendering it to the world. His famous lines ‘I dream of painting and then I paint my dream’ resonates even today since his death in 1890.

HAPPINESS & SHOPPING

When explicitly viewed, definitions of happiness is indicative of the general constituents such as contentment, joy, pleasure etc. all of which is an inner state of mind but attainment strategies for happiness are also interspersed with less flattering versions such as smoking, drug intoxication, food gorging, binge drinking and other forms of dependence and obsession. A perpetual state of happiness however eludes most people as one is incessantly seeking it from the outside environment as against tapping internal resources to engender this state. Amongst various forms of external gratification, shopping is inclusive and can provide immense happiness. It is characteristic and seem to ease mental congestion for a while. Shopping here does not denote the dreary daily or monthly essential items buying. It also does not denote gifts purchased for others, be it family, friends etc. or any form of obligatory purchases. Shopping here signifies those opportune moments when we decide to give a treat to ourselves and make that untrammelled drive to the shopping center. Buying to nourish our inner being, buying to anaesthetize our stressors, buying to feel instant gratification and buying to feel that sense of worth.  There are innumerable others that exemplify happiness but let us take a view on buying and its correlation to happiness in this blog.

BUYING BEHAVIOUR

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Nietzsche coined the word perspectivism which implies that ‘ideations take place from particular perspectives’ and Bo Derek’s line, ‘Whoever said money can’t buy happiness simply didn’t know where to go shopping’, borders on it and may perhaps invite fierce philosophical debates but the line does seem to emphasise the linkage between happiness and shopping. Here are further reinforcements; ‘I love going shopping’ (Serena Williams), ‘I love vintage shopping’ (Emma Roberts), ‘Win or lose, we go shopping after the election’ (Imelda Marcos). If these women say it makes them happy, sure it does indeed.  In a survey conducted in Britain, it was inferred that men get bored with shopping after 26 minutes but women can endure it for 2 hours. Understanding the buying behaviour and ascertaining the psychological construct is useful to sellers which form an essential organising principle of sales.

THE BUYING URGE

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Let us understand what creates this buying urge? What precisely we do with this urge and how does it change our state?  There are planned buyers and there are impulse buyers.  Both of them are susceptible to advertising infiltrations to the mind, just that the impulse buyer acts out quicker with a buying intent. Impulse buyer also has problems controlling his/her emotions and buying is an expression for them to escape from anxiety and unhappiness. Not a water tight logic because high affordability could also be a reason for impulse buying besides  all of us do impulse buying and it doesn’t mean it is a flight from unhappiness always. It could also mean a gentle high from our daily life. Hence impulse buying is not a deficient behaviour rather we are concerned about obsessive impulse buying to remain happy. Look at the way the shopping centres lure prospective buyers and create the buying urge. The store is well lit, smells great and there is nice music. The array of products are well displayed and trial rooms with  3 sided mirrors are inviting.   Everything is shiny and clean, colour themes not loud, in essence the store just inveigles the visitor to indulge.

You enter the store, negotiate past the store facilitation personnel with a ‘I’m just looking around’ gaze that secures your space for unhindered exploration, take a turn and a beautiful rack of shoes appear. External environment appear to stand still. Dopamine, a neurotransmitter (chemical) is triggered in the brain and the  buying urge is amplified.  Amongst many crucial functions dopamine  renders such as memory, mood, cognition, voluntary movement, learning etc., it is also responsible for the pleasure sensations and reward-motivated behaviour hence is known as the happiness chemical. Drinks, drugs, creative leaps, gambling, extreme sensations, food, sex, shopping, all these act as stimulants for dopamine release in the brain. Like the Pavlov dog salivating example, an alcoholic, upon sighting the pub, secretes dopamine and begins to feel good before actual alcohol consumption begins. Similarly when  the boss comes over and hands over the bonus letter personally, dopamine secretion could trigger, in anticipation.  Parkinson’s disease is a central nervous system disorder invoked by the demise of dopamine generating cells in the brain hence one can surmise its importance. The shoe-shopper, with this dopamine secretion triggered, makes the purchase and starts feeling good. The urge increases to repeat this feeling of buoyancy in the head and this explains all forms of addiction.   The European journal of Social Psychology states that it takes 66 days to form a new habit in the brain hence with disciplined repetitions new empowering habits can be formed. Unfortunately so can negative habits and obsessive impulse buying fits the rubric.

HAPPINESS CHEMICALS IN THE BRAIN 

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Apart from dopamine there are other positive mood chemicals released in the brain such as Serotonin, Oxytocin & Endorphin. Serotonin also promotes well-being and happiness. Oxytocin promotes trust and intimacy particularly its secretion is high in the mother after childbirth. Endorphin provides brief euphoria that inhibits transmission of pain signals. Laughing and crying stimulate release of endorphin. Vigorous  exercise also releases endorphin in the brain to insulate oneself against the pain. All these are happy chemicals in the brain. Various tasks that we do, engagements that we experience, things that we buy, people that we communicate to and various associations in life trigger various chemicals in our brain from time to time and this affects our overall feeling of well-being. Ability to trigger the positive chemicals without any substance use, alcohol, stimulants, addiction and obsession is the key. It would be a cliché to present it as a healthy option, undoubtedly it is and is a no-brainer yet all of us are victims to it and perhaps many of us would continue to remain so.

CONCLUSION

Buying products  eventually manifests in one’s social or professional circles. People take notice of it hence the buyer establishes his/her identity with the product and believes in its status preservation attributes. Regardless of how one feels, be it despair, distress or plain low on the day, buying personal stuff is subconsciously interwoven with perceived esteem. All of us feel great after buying things for ourselves and to some extent it is healthy but inordinate obsession is to be averted. There is a categorization called CBD (Compulsive Buying Disorder) and 5.8 % of US are affected by it. It is a proper clinical condition. The affected person exhibits excessive shopping cognitions and buying behaviour that leads to impairment or anxiety, which subsides after the purchase, is made. Our awareness of such occurrences and restrain helps in minimizing its prevalence.

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Buying for psychological comfort is not going to cease. It is now deep seated in our DNA and with the advertising bombardment that we are exposed to; we will bring home products  out of which perhaps 50 % will remain in mint condition.  I am  not averse to the buying phenomenon in fact the joys of buying must never be diluted. It is an economical necessity to keep the wheels spinning however the objective of this blog is to make people delink the happiness quotient from compulsive buying syndrome. There are cheaper ways to trigger dopamine in the head such as re-scripting our thoughts, meta-cognition (thinking about the way we think), goal setting, accomplishment orientation, heightening awareness and other thought stabilisation strategies. Let us experiment with these approaches too prior to instituting a long term habit of compulsive buying. The same argument  is applicable to any other form of addiction.

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