Posted by Jill Chivers in My Story

G’day and welcome to post #86.  We’ve just arrived in Los Angeles, a city I haven’t quite gotten the hang of.  We’ve got a few days to explore it before heading north, so I hope to be able to report that I’m ‘gettin’ it’ a bit more in a couple of days.

You know I’ve been thinking about a question that Margaret Larson asked me the other day, during my interview with her on New Day NW (which you can also watch by clicking here).  Margaret asked me what I’d discovered about the emotional reasons that I shopped.  Me personally.  In all the media I’ve had in the last few months, I’ve not had that question put to me.  I’ve been answering questions about the emotional reasons that women in general shop… But that was the first time someone asked me for my specific, individual reasons.

And what I have discovered is that one of the reasons I shopped so much was because I thought I deserved it.  I used shopping to reward myself.

If I’d facilitated a particularly challenging group, then shopping was a way to reward myself.

If I thought I might be facilitating a particularly challenging group, then I would shop in advance as a reward for what might turn out to be a challenging experience.

When I shopped on overseas trips, I would remind myself (or should I say justify myself) that I’ve worked hard and I deserved this.  Whatever this was.

Shopping became a way of not so much keeping up (I never followed fashion that closely) but more a way of keeping score.  I was competing with myself, which could explain why I never felt I won.  There’s always some new hurdle to jump when it’s yourself you’re competing against.

In our western economies, there’s a lot of entitlement going around, have you noticed?  We feel we deserve certain things.  Jobs that pay above the minimum wage, free speech without fear of recrimination, 50% off at sale time. 

I sat next to a flight attendant on a Delta flight recently.  I mentioned to her how extraordinary I found the onboarding process to be on internal US flights, where so many of the passengers took on board suitcases that were so large, they probably should have been checked in.  She nodded and said “there’s a lot of entitlement here”. 

I saw a recent 60 Minutes story about the “99ers” – people who had been on unemployment benefits here in the USA for over 99 weeks.  One of the women was asked “the week before you were laid off, what was your lifestyle like?”.  She responded:  “I was a shopaholic!”

Shopping has become an entitlement, hasn’t it?  We feel we deserve it, perhaps we are even owed it.  Beyond the right to bear arms, this is the right to bear store credit cards!

We’ve worked hard, we’re stressed or we’ve had a bad day (or a great day.  or an ordinary day)… and we use shopping as a way to respond to that emotional call.   Consumption as a way to fill an emotional gap.

What we want to feel is better.  Better about ourselves.  About our lives.  About our futures.  But consumption isn’t the answer.  Contribution is.

Shopping to answer the emotional questions life poses will never satisfy.  That’s because shopping is all about wanting (thinly disguised as needing, to those of us particularly skilled at this game, aided by clever but not-too-subtle merchandising like this to the left – captured recently in a store in Philadelphia).  Shopping’s about what you don’t have, and attempting to fill that gap.

The opposite of that is gratitude.  A feeling of fullness by focusing on what you do have.  What your life is filled with already.   The gratitude movement has reached momentum in the last few years and despite a slight leaning toward commoditisation itself (think The Secret), it’s largely been a force for good.

When you shift your focus from what you Must Have to what you already have, everything shifts.  Like the trim tab on a ship, a very small adjustment (in the case of a ship, a trim tab adjustment of one inch) can make a huge difference in the course you follow (the ship can end up moving thousands of miles in a different direction with that one inch correction). 

That one small shift, from entitlement to gratitude, can make that big a difference in your life.  You’ve got to stay on course, of course.  If you let it drift back to its original position, you’ll end up zigzagging all over the planet in a random fashion.  Which is great if you work for the Nat Geo Adventure channel, where Get Lost is more than an insult, its a slogan.

When I connect in with feelings of entitlement it makes me feel wary, constantly on guard, like outrage is one step away.  That’s great for staging a revolution or an international coup d’tat.  Not so great as a daily state to live your life in.  And completely misguided as an energy to direct toward shopping.

When I connect in with feelings of gratitude, I feel blessed, contended, happy. Like what I have is more than enough – that my life is overflowing with more than one person could ever use or need in one lifetime.  Like I don’t need to go check out that 50 – 75% off Everything Today Only sale happening at my favourite shoe store.

And since this is my life, my one and only life – I get to choose.  That’s the great bit about it — I have a say in this!  I have a say in the thoughts I think and the feelings I evoke and pay attention to.  How’s that for a neat system? 

And so, just for today, I’ll choose door #2. 

Ok, today we’ve covered unemployment benefits, marine engineering and the Al Anon prayer.  Not bad for a post I started off with no more than a loose idea and a photo of a pillow with a picture of a high heel shoe on it.  Right?

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