Are you addicted to shopping?
Have you ever wondered why you love shopping so much? Are you hooked on spending money all the time? Are you completely addicted to shopping?
Or maybe you’re the opposite.
Maybe you hate shopping and hate spending money.
Science shows that our love or hate of shopping comes down to evolutionary biology.
Yes, something as simple as your shopping habits are effected by millions of year of evolution.
I personally used to hate shopping.
One when I was a little kid I cried for two hours because I’d spent $60 on the wrong video game.
Then later, as an adult, I used to feel terribly guilty spending money rather than giving it all away to friends or charities—I am rather in love with ethical investing, which is the idea of spending money on things that will help the world or help other people.
Most of my life I had a very bad relationship with money. I always found it depressing to spend money, even relatively small amounts.
Turns out I should blame my genes. And so should you.
Shopping Addiction Is Caused By Evolutionary Biology
Now we know why people love or hate shopping. It’s all about evolutionary biology.
Evolutionary biology is the study of the origins and evolution of species. It’s a fascinating field of science that is usually used to understand genetics, molecular biology, and evolution.
Non-geniuses need not sweat, though.
You don’t need a masters degree in biology to understand what I’m about to say.
Personally I’m the last thing from a scientist, being an artistic spiritualist. But even with my limited knowledge, it is quite easy to understand how evolutionary biology affects your shopping habits.
Let’s take a look.
5 Ways Evolution Biology Affects Your Thoughts About Shopping
1. You love or hate shops based on certain patterns
As human being we have evolved to have very advanced pattern-recognition skills.
Take a look at this fantastic article on Visual Thinking Magic. It explains how humans evolved to be masters at pattern recognition.
Compared to most Earth-based species, we humans have exceptional pattern recognition abilities. And those abilities are at play when we go shopping.
Have you ever noticed that when you go shopping you have certain stores you love and other stores you hate?
If so, consider the patterns and the décor of the area you’re shopping in.
If you’re shopping in a city centre full of high rise buildings and flashy advertisements, for instance, you might feel stressed, because your mind has learnt to associate tall buildings and flashing lights with tension.
On the other hand, you might love shopping in cozy little shops off the main strip.
This is why, if you are addicted to shopping, you might be addicted to one store in particular (how many people are addicted to Amazon? Ebay addicts are rife, too).
We feel differently about different stores because we notice different patterns.
Charity stores, for instance, are often quiet, friendly, and subdued. Your mind picks up on these patterns and says “I’ve been here before. It was good last time”. That”s one reason I personally love to bargain hunt in charity stores.
Pattern recognition is always at play.
When you find yourself loving shopping or hating shopping, ask: “Is my mind picking up on something here that I dislike?” You may find there’s a pattern at play.
What store do you love, and what do you love about it? Leave a comment below.
2. Tribalism makes us love some stores and hate others
Tribalism is a huge part of human evolution (this excellent article on Scientific American explains more).
As humans, we’ve come to develop a habit of sticking with the people who are similar to us. And at the same time, we go against people who are different to us (this is part of the reason for discrimination).
The groups we hang with inform us of who we are. They’re actually a large part of our personality.
Every time you visit a store, your tribal mind kicks-in.
When shopping, your mind is constantly asking, “Is this store like me? Does this store reflect me? Do I fit in here?
Smart store owners take advantage of tribalism. They make their stores reflect the type of people they want to attract. That way, when you visit a store you’ll think, “These guys are like me. I trust them. I’m happy to spend money here.”
This can make you addicted to shopping because when you shop in certain stores you reaffirm your sense of who you are. You need to go to La Senza once a week to remind yourself just how sexy a person you are. Or maybe you have to hit the Apple store because you’re so tech savvy, even though you do not actually need anything from those stores when you go.
Next time you go shopping ask yourself: what stores do I feel I belong in, and what does that say about me?
3. You get excited shopping because of sexiness and food
It goes without saying that sex and food are absolutely essential aspects of evolutionary biology. And they are the biggest marketing forces in the world. I mean, we are living in an age when even a commercial for a burger has to refer to sexual activities.
The sexiness and food-iness of shopping addicts you because of dopamine. Just seeing an advert that is sexy or tasty (or both) releases a shot of the feel-good brain chemical dopamine, which is one of the main causes of addiction.
For millions of years, as we’ve developed as a species, we’ve sought out food and sex, for survival and reproduction. And our minds are still utterly hooked on those things.
Marketing executives take advantage of food and sex constantly. Heck, even adverts for hamburgers show sexy people eating them.
Of course, even though we desire lovely food and sex some of us are put off by those things. Many people are offended by the often offensive over-sexualisation of adverts (the fact that a burger commercial has to objectify women is insulting). And while we crave yummy food we all know the consequences.
The ubiquitous nature of sex and food in stores can make you both love shopping and hate shopping, and is another reason why people get addicted to shopping.
4. Forced socialism might make you love shopping or hate it
Right now there’s a heated debate taking place in the science community about whether or not prosocial behaviour is the cause of natural selection, the argument being that the more we help people the more we get helped in return, and both are favorable to survival.
Most human being have ingrained pro-social habits (we are kind to others), but the naysayers argue that prosocial behavior is maladaptive since it favours a wider gene pool over any one individual’s specific genes.
Prosocial behaviour means that you’re more likely to favour brands and shops that your social group approve of.
If your friends like Ebay, you will too.
Of course this can be a two way street. Because, on the one hand, you will feel great visiting stores that your friends love. But you hate it when you have to go to stores that normally “you wouldn’t be seen dead in”.
Many shopping addicts feel socially pressured into going to popular stores. That’s another reason why addicts go shopping when they don’t need to—it makes them feel popular.
We’ve all learnt these traits from evolutionary biology. And whether you love shopping or hate shopping, every time you go to a store these factors are at play.
Curing Your Shopping Addiction
As we’ve seen above, there are lots of reasons why people get addicted to shopping. How to stop it is another issue.
If you want to know how to stop shopping addiction, start by recognising what type of shopaholic you are.
There are various different types of shopaholics. Which type are you?
Compulsive shopaholics: These guys are shoppers who absolutely feel that they must shop. They are compulsive. And some do actually have OCD. If they do not shop they feel emotional distress.
Trophy shopaholics: These are the shopaholics who believe that they will find a perfect item, an item so good it will change their entire lives. There’s an item out there that they absolutely need and they will not stop until they get it.
Hey big spender: These guys are all about how they look. They want people to see them carrying expensive new items. They want the thrill of having other people look at them in jealousy.
Bargain Hunt: You don’t want to miss a bargain. If you miss the two-for-one on Toilet Duck you just don’t know how you’ll live with yourself.
Bulimic Shopaholics: You shop. You give it back. You shop. You give it back. Maybe you just love being able to return items for free.
Collectors: Basically, life is Pokemon. You have to catch them all.
How To Know If You’re Addicted To Shopping
So how do you actually know if you have a shopping addiction?
What if it is not a shopping addiction but you’re just someone who enjoys shopping? Why does everyone have a problem with you going shopping all the time? What’s wrong with doing something you enjoy?
Well, for starters, People who have an actual genuine shopping addiction don’t just enjoy shopping. They actually need to shop. Otherwise they will feel terrible.
Quitting shopping gives addicts withdrawal symptoms. If you feel sad, angry or depressed when you don’t shop, it’s a sign that there’s a problem.
The Symptoms Of Shopping Addiction
- Shallow breathing
- Feeling agitated.
- Getting mood swings for no reason.
- You can’t focus because you can’t stop thinking about shopping.
- When you don’t shop you feel depressed
- Your relationships are being ruined by shopping.
- You can’t stop shopping even though your credit card is maxed out.
- You buy things you can’t afford even though you know you can’t afford them.
- You comfort shop. When you’re shopping you’re not doing it to buy something you doing it to stop feeling a certain way.
- You get a rush when you’re shopping, just like how you get a rush from coffee, sugar etc.
The Effects Of Shopping Addiction
There are short-term and long-term effects of shopping addiction. Some effects are obvious and others are not so.
One of the obvious side-effects of shopping addiction is that it leaves you in debt. You may even find that you take out a loan just a pay for your shopping addiction. And your finances are soon in tatters.
Another side effect of shopping addiction is the emotional side. You may feel great when you are shopping. Or alternatively you may fee guilty because you know you shouldn’t be shopping but you just can’t stop. It might get so bad that you end up taking out a second mortgage. Then there’s the regret…
“Am I a shopaholic?” Answer these questions to find out if you have shopping addiction
Do you feel sad, upset, depressed, or angry when you can’t shop?
Do you have emotional reactions to shopping?
Do you continue shopping even though you have a financial problem?
Are you taking out loans to fund your shopping?
Do you buy things you don’t need just because you enjoy shopping so much?
Do you get a high from shopping?
Do you feel hopeless about saving money?
If the answer to these questions is yes, you probably do have a shopping addiction.
So what can you do about shopping addiction?
How to cure shopping addiction
There are several ways to cure shopping addiction. Meditation is my personal go-to. It is possible to meditate while shopping. When you do this you will cure shopping addiction and you will also learn about why you shop so much.
How to Cure a Shopping Addiction—Meditation
- Go to a shopping centre but do not take your credit card or any cash. You’re not going to be buying anything.
- Start window shopping.
- Look at all the cool things you want. Don’t just look though, perceive the items mindfully. Pay close attention to their every detail, looking at the colours, the shapes and so on. This is a great opportunity to practice mindfulness.
- Pay particular attention to items you really, really want.
- Anytime you come across an item you really want, observe the thoughts in your mind (read my guide to Vipassana for an explanation on this).
- Observe the thoughts in your mind.
- Tell yourself that thoughts are just thoughts, nothing more. This will give you power over your thoughts and you will quite soon start to think about shopping in a different way. Your shopaholic-mindset will change.
- At times you will feel dissatisfied because you want to buy something. Just focus on your breath. Count to ten breaths and then continue the exercise.
- The overall purpose is to monitor your thoughts while shopping and to systematically change those thoughts. This will stop shopping addiction.
Shopaholics, make sure to practice this exercise for one hour and you will learn a great deal about yourself and also will cure your shopping addiction.