Shopping (or retail) therapy

Visiting another country recently, I was struck by a large billboard on a main thoroughfare. It said: Come for Counselling and Forget about Retail Therapy. This was not a private advertisement. It was an official government notice, beaming out at every passing motorist and pedestrian.

I wanted to go back to see it again. My local driver said, ‘Isn’t it funny that I drive this way every day and have never noticed this, yet you see it for the first time and are drawn to it.’ This was in a country where poverty is rife – but people would rather have a mobile phone than a decent meal every day, and the government health body has identified shopping for fun as a health hazard. This gives pause for thought.

As a therapist, I am fully aware of how people go shopping in order to feel better; that is, not specifically to buy something suitable for an important function, or for work, but to acquire things that might never be used or worn. Shopping for its own sake. Shopping to fill a vacuum, perhaps.

People everywhere are damaging their lives by going into debt to buy things that bring little or no satisfaction. Such a waste of money that could be saved and spent on something of far greater long-term benefit, such as a holiday.

The young people in my extended family say: ‘You’re such a spoilsport.’ Why? I’m not suggesting that they shouldn’t treat themselves occasionally. I’m just saying, ‘Why make life difficult, when you have so many choices in this sunny country, by racking up debt that brings worry and stress?’ Habits can become addictions, causing considerable harm to those affected, directly and indirectly.

Yes, shopping seems to make the world go round. It provides work for retailers, shop assistants, and all the people in the cafés, bars, and restaurants that cluster around shopping areas. So let us not demonise it too much for society as a whole, just for the individuals who are vulnerable and in danger of long-term damage. They may be bored or lonely and

it is worth stopping to explore these feelings, to investigate solutions other than shopping.

Where does the boredom come from, and why is that shopping is so compelling? Is it a form of escape from the emptiness of boredom? Would it not make sense to spend some time reflecting on what it is that motivates people to spend money they don’t have, to buy things they don’t truly want or need?

Once you work out whether you are shopping for entertainment or because you don’t know what else to do, then you can decide what to do about the problem.