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Shopping as Therapy

May 8, 2009 | by Emuna Braverman

Like binge eating, it may feel good for the moment but the after-effects are devastating.

I was helping out my daughter. Really. She had moved across the country and it wasn't worth the cost of packing to ship her Pottery Barn pitcher to her. I would return it and give her the gift card. Proud of what a selfless mother I was, I took time out of my busy(!) day to go to the mall (in the true spirit of self-sacrifice). I was sure there was a Pottery Barn there. And there was…until about five months ago (I guess I can at least take pleasure in the fact that I don't go to the mall often enough to know).

Fortunately, the trip wasn't completely in vain since I saw this cute jacket on the way out, perfect for spring, just my size -- and completely wrong for my budget. So I did as many women before me have done. I bought it.

Slightly daunted but not yet ready to cry uncle, a few days later I entered another mall where I was certain there was a Pottery Barn. It wasn't worth asking when it had vacated the premises.

But I did find some cute summer dresses -- with sleeves and everything. How could I pass them up?

Yet how could I pay? Shopping as therapy is like binge eating. It may feel good for the moment but the after-effects are devastating; especially if you shop and binge!

But of course the problem is much deeper. As is the solution.

We are constantly trying to fill our inner emptiness.

We are constantly trying to fill our inner emptiness. We do it literally with food. We do it metaphorically with shopping. We decorate houses, we chair committees (a more productive strategy but frequently a strategy nonetheless), we keep moving and doing in an effort to avoid the hole inside.

We may even recognize that nothing really works. Yet we do it anyway. We numb our minds and we numb our bodies. We push "submit this order" or sign up for a ceramics class or add more hours to our work-out.

It's not so easy to break out of this cycle. Not only is our inner voice demanding satisfaction but the outer voices are screaming loudly too. In catalogs at our doorstep, in unsolicited emails in our inbox, on billboards and the sides of buses. The world cries out "Buy me!" "Eat this!" "Come here!" with products and experiences that are guaranteed to provide true happiness.

We're not stupid. We know we're being duped. We know it doesn't last. How long can a new bag provide satisfaction? New shoes? (well, maybe shoes do work!) Ice cream? Chocolate?

We need to dig deeper (no pun intended) if we really want to fill the hole. And we need to imbue our lives with meaning, with constant purpose, and with our relationship with the Almighty.

It's so much harder to tackle the ephemeral in the face of the material.

It's so much easier to curl up with a magazine than to try to learn and grow.

It's so much easier to fill our heads with noise than to think quietly about our Creator.

It's so much more immediately gratifying to go shopping than to grapple with the awesomeness of a transcendent Being. And in the end so much less satisfying. In the end, not therapeutic after all.

Unless of course it's a really good sale…


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