Just in time for Christmas, scientists have discovered a surefire way to fight impulse shopping. The trick is simple: when you see something you suddenly feel you must have, think instead of all you’re grateful for. The emotion of gratitude can, when called to mind at the right time, override your lesser, “gimmie gimmie” thoughts, letting you glide right by that cleverly constructed pyramid of goodies blocking the squash and celery. At least that’s what the research says.
What’s so bad about impulse shopping? I mean, aside from spending too much money on all the wrong things for all the wrong people? (By which I mean, for yourself, during this so-called season of giving.)
Impulse shopping can be a problem all year, not only during the holidays. I’ll find myself in the baking section with every good intention of buying a bottle of oregano or a bag of whole wheat flour, when, bam! the chocolate chips start singing their siren song. Or I’ll be cruising down the dairy mile in search of my doctor-prescribed skim milk when my peripheral vision lights upon red cans of Reddi-Whip to my left, blue pints of half-and-half on my right.
“Cream!” my arteries scream, “We need cream!” Sprayed over the pumpkin pie, plopped atop the cup of cocoa! Then an image of my latest cholesterol count pops up, and I see myself joining the heart stent club, right alongside Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Must. Resist. Cream.
But the study tells us that exercising our willpower will go only so far, and it’s not far enough. Willpower, or focusing on one’s blood glucose reports, involves negative thinking: I’m bad, so I can’t have the fun stuff. That just sets us up for rebellion, or what I like to think of as “tantrum shopping.”
Instead, we are to think of something for which we are grateful. Not just happy, but beholden.
So, hmm. I’m grateful for – my kids? Really, I am; I can’t imagine my life without them, but how in the world does this stop me from wanting a little treat for my taste buds? I don’t know. I’m afraid my tendency is to think, “Thank you, life! I’m so grateful! I deserve something sweet or fancy or expensive to celebrate!”
So I go back to the article. “What these findings show is that certain emotions can temporarily enhance self-control by decreasing desires for immediate gratification. While feeling happy doesn’t do much to increase patience, feeling grateful does.” So, okay. I guess I have to activate my gratitude center and see if it makes me more patient.
Let’s try it in the candy aisle. I never buy candy in the grocery store, so this should be —whoa! They’ve got those caramels I was reading about! Wow, they look good! But no. I’m not hungry. I’m grateful. I’m grateful for . . . having enough money to buy groceries. I am, really. So it’s back to my list which, oddly enough, says “lemons, chicken, garlic” and not “caramels.” Okay. So far, so good.
Next I head over to the hardware store. We need an outdoor extension cord for the bird bath heater, so the little sparrows and finches that winter over can have a drink no matter how frigid it gets. I whiz by the amaryllis bulbs, the Christmas lights, the battery-operated candles, the – what? They make battery-operated candles? How cool is that? We could put them in the windows! We could use them the next time the power goes out! How many can I fit in the cart?
But no. Be grateful. Find the cord for the bird bath heater, for those birds we spend a fortune on, drawing entire flocks of sparrows to zero in on our house, forsaking the rest of the city because they know, they’ve figured out, that we are suckers for hungry birds who dive bomb each other trying to score a spot on one of the perches before the neighborhood chickens come free-ranging by. How grateful are they? Not at all!
No wonder they impulse shop at our feeders. Do they know how to count their blessings? I don’t think so.
Back to the study, which was published, in case you’re wondering, in a medical journal titled Psychological Science: “Certain emotions can temporarily enhance self-control by decreasing desires for immediate gratification.” I see. Count your blessings, and you won’t need more.
I’m grateful for all sorts of things. Really, I am. I have a nice house, decent car, lovely husband. I have a job doing work I’m good at. I have a laptop, a digital camera, and immense collections of books, spices, and semi-organized photos illustrating my not-so-bad life. I have friends, family, and most of my wits about me. I’m grateful. Thank you. Thank you very much.
Will this work? The next time my email tells me Garnet Hill is selling those adorable felted-wool Santa decorations at an extreme discount, will I be able to stop thinking how cute they would look on my mantle (if I had one) because I’ve shifted instead to being grateful that I have a box of felt birds and stars and, yes, Santas my own mother made for the family tree fifty years ago?
Why, yes. I will. I am. And when Black Friday morphs into Black December, and all the big box stores trumpet urgent deals on new tablets, new phones, new 3-D printers, can I resist by being grateful that my outdated technology still works just fine? I can. Counting your blessings can be a relief, when it leaves you with money in your pockets and an unshakable feeling that your life, your arms, and your shopping bag are already quite full enough.