A friend recently complained to me that his life lacked a deeper meaning. He shared how for a long time he had tried to alleviate this feeling by shopping—until he eventually discovered that it only led him deeper into emptiness and depression.
Shopping is an addiction just like alcoholism or drug addiction. And anyone who has tried to break an addiction—or even just a bad habit—knows how much effort it takes, and how easy it can be to fall back into it.
Feeling like we need more
That feeling of happiness when buying something new is probably familiar to all of us. However, there’s a big difference between items bought out of necessity and purchases spurred by emotion. In the case of the latter, a vicious circle quickly develops and we feel the urge to buy more and more goods. Feel-good endorphins and dopamine are triggered just by considering the purchase of a new item. Although it may sound harmless, dopamine is actually extremely addictive. As a result, we end up buying things simply to satisfy our desire to buy them, rather than through any real need for them.
Companies use all kinds of psychological techniques in their marketing to influence people’s buying decisions and create shopping addictions.
Emphasis is placed on scarcity—such as a limited period to buy at amore affordable price—or by playing on feelings of inadequacy, with products promising to make you more beautiful, attractive, self-confident and more. Essentially, many advertising messages are using our insecurities as bait to lure us into product purchases.
Today's digital world has also brought unarguably unethical techniques. While denied by social media companies, many people claim that algorithms on social media platforms make offers based on conversations held near a smartphone. All you have to do is talk about your vacation plans with a friend, and travel offers of the mentioned country will start popping up on your digital feed.
Although eavesdropping isn’t pretty, such tailored advertisements would appear to serve people’s interests—by offering an immediate solution to a problem or need.
However, it is clearly unethical to make commercial offers based on consumers' digital behaviour using algorithms that identify whether a person feels, for example, insecure, inadequate or anxious—based on their behaviour on social media. Taking advantage of someone's current state of vulnerability, advertisements target them with a "promise" to solve their problems.
As a result, it is increasingly difficult for consumers to recognise and defend themselves from such forms of manipulation.
The connection between happiness and things
More than a century ago (!) studies already started to find a connection between overconsumption and deteriorating mental well-being. In 1899, the American economist Thorstein Veblen observed that people live for the accumulation of wealth—incessantly competing with others, but seldom increasing their own real well-being as a result. This phenomenon is still extremely relevant to society today, and our modern way of life.
For example, psychologist Tim Kasser has found that people with materialistic goals experience more anxiety and depression, and are less happy and satisfied with their life. Minimalists, on the other hand, are happier because there is less worry, stress, and chaos in their lives. Thus, happiness seems to be inversely related to the number of things we acquire.
On 25 November, the Black Friday shopping pandemic will once again sweep around the world. Black Friday is one of the most polluting and devastating days of the year. Not only does the day have abad effect on our bank balances, it also has a significant impact on the environment and our mental health.
Black Friday can break even the most strong-willed of people, because the fear of missing out is all-consuming. Black Friday's 24-hour window for deals means people have only a short amount of time to decide whether or not to make a purchase.
This can often lead people to make impulse purchases out of fear of regretting missing out on a good deal. However, research has found that many Black Friday sales are actually the same as those that occur throughout the year. What's more, there are plenty of cases in which prices have been raised in the lead up to the day—to give the allusion of a bigger discount. While this is a forbidden sales technique, (semi)legal work arounds are often employed.
80% of purchases end up in the trash
Black Friday is also clearly a major environmental issue. On this day, all sorts of tricks are used to encourage shoppers to make impulse buys and unnecessary purchases. A report by the think tank Green Alliance found that 80 percent of everything bought during BlackFriday sales ends up in the trash within a short space of time—or, at best, it finds its way into second-hand stores.
People return billions of dollars’ worth of online Black Friday purchases. And as a rule, these goods are not resold, but disposed of. A huge amount of waste is generated just in one day.
Fortunately, several brands have decided not to go along with this craziness anymore. For example, Swedish fashion brand Asket closes its website and store on Black Friday—not selling any products for the whole day, and encouraging customers to detect the devastating effects of fast fashion.
Dutch wallet maker Secrid offers customers a free repair service to mark the day.
Recycled bag brand Freitag closes its online store on BlackFriday, encouraging people to exchange bags instead of buying new ones.
Black Friday encourages mindless consumerism—and encourages people to spend money they don't have on things they don't need. Black Friday is not only inappropriate and unethical, but also destructive due to its impact on both the mental health of consumers and the increasingly critical environmental situation.
How to maintain your mental health and feel happier?
There is a simple question we can ask ourselves before any purchase: “Do I really need this, or do I just want it?” And let's try to be very honest and self-aware when answering—because we’re all quite talented at justifying our own bad decisions, both to ourselves and to others! If we really do have a need for a certain product, let's try to choose long-lasting, high-quality, low environmental impact products, and—wherever possible—buy second-hand.
Thanks for reading, and I wish you—and all of us who share it—a waste-free world!