My friend Wes had a few thoughts on shopping. When he proposed writing a guest blog, it sounded like a cool idea…not only to get the point of view from a compassionate meditator, but also some shopping tips from a guy! Wes takes us a little deeper than choosing which cute pair of shoes to buy. He asks us to question our motivations for shopping in the first place. Here’s what he had to say:
Everyone buys stuff.
Most buy a lot of stuff.
We buy clothes, cars, and kitchen appliances. We buy electronics, furniture, and maybe even art. When it comes time to buy, the choices can seem endless because there are so many brands, styles, colors, and sizes. The prices can also vary from affordable to something you have to finance. With so many factors to consider, how do you decide what to buy?
Perhaps there is a brand you like.
Maybe something is in style.
Maybe the price dictates the decision.
These are all valid reasons, but have you ever considered the deeper motivation for your purchasing decisions? Why do you like that brand? Why do you want that new style? Why do you want the cheapest or most expensive option? Knowing the answers to these questions, or at least knowing what questions to ask yourself, can make your decisions easier. It can also make you happier with your purchasing decisions, which is especially important for products that you may use daily, and have for a long time.
Before getting into these questions, I want to briefly note two important ideas.
The first is whether to buy something in the first place. There is an argument that we sacrifice our freedom to some extent by buying things that we don’t truly need. While there may be merit to this argument, most people do not want to live in an empty cabin in the woods. So, if we assume some level of purchasing beyond absolute essentials, how can we do so in a positive way? How can we define our values in order to help us make decisions about what to get? And where do we draw the line?
The second is that buying experiences may bring us more happiness than buying things. This important idea has been well studied and written about, but for purposes of this post, we are concerned with the decision-making process for the purchase of material items.
The key point I want to make is relatively easy to explain, but can be difficult to put into practice. When making purchases, I encourage you to make decisions based on your values and long-term goals. Stated differently, ask yourself if this is something you need (go for it) or something you want (maybe sleep on it).
Knowing your values and long-term goals and applying them to your purchasing decisions can not only remove anxiety from the process, but can even make you feel good about your purchases.
For example, if you are getting a new car, you may consider whether environmental preservation is something you care about. If so, this may narrow your options to hybrid and battery powered cars so that you feel better whenever you see and drive your car. If environmental preservation is something you care about, but you decide to get an SUV because all of the neighbors have them, you may end up feeling guilty whenever you see and drive your car.
Similarly, I would encourage you to make your decisions based on internal motivations (this will bring me joy) as opposed to external factors (this will make other people like me or jealous).
Using our car example, the idea is to get a hybrid or battery powered car because the environment is important to you; not because you want other people to think more highly of you when they see your car. This can be a difficult shift to make because we come from ancestors who needed social status to become part of a group, which helped them to survive. Those who did not become part of a group were left to their own devices or even targeted, which made survival more difficult.
Today, there is no longer the same survival need for social status, and our desire for social status can be a cause of anxiety and unhappiness. As a result, we should try to notice when we feel the desire to buy something in order to increase our social status or meet expectations and ask whether the purchase is in line with our values and long-term goals. If not, perhaps we will be better served by foregoing it or looking at other options.
The next time you have something to buy, take a minute to analyze your motivations and ask whether they are internal or external. Avoid buying things just to impress people. Instead, buy things because they improve your life, which can happen in a variety of ways – by making you feel good, helping you express yourself, improving your quality of life, saving time, saving money, or supporting a cause you believe in.
What motivates your purchases?
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