America is truly a land of addictions. You need look no further than the latest statistics about the opioid epidemic to see. One hundred-thousand people died in the last year from opioid overdose, mostly from illegal fentanyl, a synthetic version of heroin. This is the same drug that took the lives of Prince, Tom Petty, Michael K Williams and Shock G, four artists gone before their time. Even apart from the typical addictive substances, we are always searching for the next dopamine hit, the next high point, the next win, and we are never content having our needs met. This addictive nature can result in unhealthy relationships with food, alcohol, sex, gambling, video games, pornography, and many other culturally sanctioned activities, including those that are life-sustaining. I am no exception; it’s kind of in our cultural DNA. In our economy, more is better, getting more for less is a positive thing whether you need that something or not, we are always seeking the next “deal.” It takes great restraint to focus on “enough,” or even “less” instead of “more.” Having more, wanting more, needing to “keep up with the Joneses” all cause us to spend what money we make on things we don’t need in order to fulfill our dreams of having others see and respect us for our higher status. This is what our entire economy is built on and built for: consumption.
We have banks that finance purchases of homes that are bigger than we need and credit cards to fill those homes with stuff. And our relentless desire to get those things made more cheaply has driven down the value of labor over time, eventually leading to most of our goods being purchased through Amazon or Walmart and made in China or other countries where they pay their laborers less than we can get away with. These two shifts in combination have completely hollowed out much of the American manufacturing economy as well as drained the entire lifeblood out of much of rural America, leaving people with little to do for a living and more disconnected from the economy, as a whole. Generations have left the small town home life they may have desired to come to the cities, get a college education and work in the knowledge sector or just to work in the businesses that support the city functions, even if they might have rather stayed in their home towns.
All this for what? Do we really have a better quality of life if we make more money and use it all to consume more than we need? If we were all to decide we were only going to live within our means and then start taking our time back from work in order to volunteer, building the community or caring for others in one form or another, would we say our lives got better or worse? I’m not sure the answer is what you might suspect at first glance. If you are working too hard just to support a lifestyle you don’t want for yourself anyway, why do it?
I will admit, I buy clothes I do not need often just because I am bored. There is ALWAYS a sale or a discount code on the web, the sites are designed to draw you in and getting a deal on something is a rush for me. This is a bad habit I am trying to break. Specifically, I will shop online when I’m feeling lonely or sad, that “filling the hole in your soul” feeling. Then once I’ve picked out a bunch of items I would probably just return once they arrive, I stop myself, step away from the screen and (usually) forget about it entirely. By the time I find the shopping tab again, the mood has passed and I shut it down. This strategy works most of the time.
I also feel the addictive pull of spending money even when I go to the grocery store. I’m a pretty good cook, if I do say so myself and I like to be pretty creative in the kitchen, so that can lead to some interesting purchases. I normally stroll through the aisles looking for sales on ingredients I plan to take home and transform, even though I already have cabinets full of food. There is a thrill that comes with finding a “deal” and the actual spending of the money.
I have heard that one way to break a spending addiction is to never use a credit or debit card, but instead always to pay with cash. Since the pandemic, I have yet to try this method, mainly for hygiene reasons. I actually think I will be able to conquer this one because I have been training to feel the same sort of dopamine hit when I use something up or give something away. This has taken me a long time, but I think I’m starting to really get the hang of it.
I know that I’m not alone in using shopping as a tool for immediate gratification. In fact, the pandemic-instigated logistics nightmare that is all the ships in Los Angeles/Long Beach that are unable to deliver all our STUFF from China, et al, and the ever-growing, palpable angst in the country as a result are just a few indicators. The question is, which of these is going to break first: the logjam in the ports or our collective psyches, unfulfilled by the months-long delay in receiving our all important STUFF! You have probably also noticed prices rising as a result, which under normal circumstances would be a signal NOT to buy because the price is too high. Will we heed those signals?
If we do, it may be for our own good. We might break the addiction and choose a simpler life. It is out there for you if you want it.