Friday, January 23, 2009

The Compulsive Shopper

Even in the best of economic times, a compulsive shopper can court financial disaster. In a crashing economy, compulsive shopping is even more destructive. In families and particularly between husband and wife, money management or the lack thereof, is one of the major areas for disagreement and disharmony. From a Los Angeles Times article, "A study published in the October 2006 issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry found that at some point in the lives of an estimated 5.8% of the U.S. population, shopping will become a source of shame, a cry for help, the cause of job losses and broken relationships, a road to financial ruin. They are “compulsive buyers” – troubled by intrusive impulses to shop, prone to lose track of time while doing so, plagued by post-purchase remorse, guilt and financial woes and sometimes given up on by loved ones."

The article quoted by the Times is called Estimated Prevalence of Compulsive Buying Behavior in the United States, published in Am J Psychiatry 2006 163: 1806-1812. The article notes that for "some adults, shopping is also a leisure activity (1), a means of managing emotions (2), or a way to establish and express self-identity (3). For others, the inability to control buying urges brings significant adverse consequences (4, 5). Uncontrolled problematic buying behavior has been referred to as uncontrolled buying (4), compulsive buying (6), compulsive shopping (7), addictive buying (8), excessive buying (9), and "spendaholism" (10)." [numbers are to references in the article].

The article notes that "[t]he adverse consequences include guilt or remorse, excessive debt, bankruptcy, family conflict, divorce, illegal activities, such as writing bad checks and embezzlement, and even suicide attempts." In my personal experience, I have seen nearly all of these consequences.

I think there is an appropriate quote from Blaise Pascal (1623-1662):

Qu’est-ce donc que nous crie cette avidité et cette impuissance, sinon qu’il y a eu autrefois en l’homme un véritable bonheur dont il ne lui reste maintenant que la marque et la trace toute vide, qu’il essaye inutilement de remplir de tout ce qui l’environne, en cherchant dans les choses absentes le secours qu’il n’obtient pas des présentes, et que les unes et les autres sont incapables de lui donner, parce que ce gouffre infini ne peut être rempli que par un objet infini et immuable, c'est-à-dire que par Dieu même.
(Project Gutenburg)

Translation: What does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object, in other words by God himself.

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