Reflections on shopping

Nothing is unhealthy when exercised at a moderate amount. Whether or not certain activities can be considered as excessive depends on how well our values align with the underlying motives of the activity. Shopping, though a harmless activity in itself, can be intrinsically outward-seeking and mind-manipulating if we do not approach it with an understanding of its repercussions.

For one, shopping encourages us to own possessions so that we can please other people. We need to ask ourselves the question of how much of our belongings are needed if we are the only living human being on this planet. From this, we will be able to filter out those we need and those we possess to impress others. Critics may argue that most activities, apart from basic physiological needs, have others’ involvement. So we inevitably spend some time thinking about others’ judgement on our work. But the key difference between shopping and other work that we do is that other work is about solving a problem that is critical to our species’ existence and understanding of nature. For example, even if I am the only person on earth, I will still be curious to know the mechanisms behind cancer, and how our history rolled out the present, but I will be much less conscious about how I look and whether I am using the most luxurious product. The underlying motive for shopping, therefore, is largely to use our resources to improve others’ impression of us. But since we have little control whatsoever over what others’ think, we inevitably choose to live in a more unsettling life when we spend more time pleasing others.

Secondly, to shop without a clear need in mind is to thoughtlessly subject oneself to the all-powerful marketing strategies that are so good at creating fake demand. There is no doubt that when we give up our independent thinking before taking actions, others will swiftly take over our thinking and inject in ideas that will benefit them. It is like watching prolonged YouTube advertisements that we tend to skip when we think rationally. Of course, a point must be made that sometimes it is relaxing to let go of the control and just wait for others to tell us what we need. After all, most of the education is about parents and teachers teaching us what they think we need to know. It is also necessary to explore before deciding what may be best for us. The key here is the degree to which we explore. For me, I tend to go shopping once or twice a year to decide what may be my best outfit for the season, and I buy a lot of them, mostly the same type, that can satisfy my needs for the rest of the year. I believe shopping on a positive side is an activity of adjusting our goals. Every time we shop with the intent to explore, we explore what our goals are for our outward projections. It is thus unwise to spend too much time adjusting one’s goal - a big tech’s CEO may engage in strategic thinking a few times a year, but they probably do not wake up every morning and contemplate whether their company should go to marine, construction, or oil business. They decide their objectives and do not look back until another appropriate time. It is thus necessary for those of us who shop on a frequent, regular basis to reflect whether adjusting so much is indeed necessary.

Shopping is also a social activity. Many go shopping to spend time with their loved ones. This is entirely reasonable after we ask ourselves the question of whether this will be the best way to foster the bonding. For some of us, yes. Shopping malls contain myriad products that may inspire discussion topics, but if one wants to look beyond our everyday thinking around products, other places should at least be an option before we decide on our plans. A more thought-provoking environment built by nature or human’s best creativity: a mountain, a beach or a museum, can be a better place to know about each other’s personality than our materialistic shopping malls. Of course, there is no question that many shopping malls are masterpieces of designers proficient in arousing desires. They are probably worth visiting for studies on human’s manipulative mind and subliminal messaging.

Shopping itself is not harmful, and it is an essential activity that our economies run on. Excessive shopping, however, may be a symptom of subconscious insecurity and misplacement of our values that we should at least be aware of.


Personalizing medicine