There seems to be an unspoken rule in our society: if we don’t keep up with the trends, have a shiny new car, luxurious home, fashionable clothes, and the latest gadgets, we are behind, unambitious, dull, or unsuccessful.
The emotions attached to this belief—shame, envy, guilt, worthlessness, distress, isolation, dissatisfaction, embarrassment, etc.—can fuel our urge to consume things we may not intrinsically want or need, especially if we lack emotional intelligence.
When we lack awareness—the foundational element of emotional intelligence—we may not realize how entangled and indoctrinated we are into the social scripts and norms that do not serve our mental health, overall well-being, connection to self, or our greater life purpose. Instead, we live for the temporary emotional highs and ‘security’ that consumer products can provide.
There is a significant difference between purchases made with conscious intent and those made by influence or impulse alone. For example: if photography brings you joy, purchasing a camera and camera accessories is a conscious purchase because it is influenced by intrinsic desire and passion. However, suppose you feel compelled to upgrade your perfectly functional phone because your phone company tells you you’re eligible for an upgrade; you decide to swap out your wardrobe only because it’s out of fashion, or you choose to purchase a car that pushes you to financial discomfort because you fell in love with the new car your friend or neighbor just bought. In those cases, you make impulsive, unconscious, and social-driven purchases.
Unconscious consumerism is considered destructive for many reasons:
1. It’s harmful to the environment, as we discard millions of tons of perfectly useful items and consume vast amounts of natural resources each year to obtain something new or ‘better.’
2. Individuals can accumulate thousands of dollars of debt by feeling the urge to spend beyond their means, leading to depression and anxiety.
3. Individuals attach their self-worth to things which can lead to a scarcity mindset and lack of intrinsic value.
Research shows that the more materialistic an individual is, the more likely they will report unhappiness, anxiety, depression, and poor physical health. However, individuals who score high in emotional intelligence are less likely to be materialistic and better regulate unpleasant emotions.
How can you tell whether you are an emotionally intelligent consumer versus an unconscious, market, or socially driven consumer?
Why You Buy:
Emotionally intelligent consumers have a genuine need or personal interest in what they are purchasing and are not swayed by the change in the market or social interest.
For example, if the soles of their shoes are worn, they either repair or replace their shoe out of need; an individual who enjoys gardening and indoor house plants may spend money on pots, plants, and garden accessories because it brings them pleasure.
Unconscious and socially driven consumers buy because they feel a strong urge to have ‘it.’ Whether the item was on a top-rated gift list, worn, owned, or endorsed by an influencer or celebrity, or deemed a status symbol, they feel compelled to get it. There is also a great deal of self-worth connected to the why of an unconscious consumer.
How You Buy:
Emotionally intelligent consumers don’t allow their emotions to make the final decision. Emotions are tied to every decision we make and thought that we have. However, self-awareness allows us to be mindful and analyze the pros and cons of our decision. Self-regulation helps us to restrain from making impulsive decisions. Emotionally intelligent consumers tend to ask one or more of the following questions before making a purchase:
Is this something I really need or want?
How often will I use it once I get it?
Is there something that is just as good for a better price elsewhere?
Is this a reasonable price or investment?
How will I feel about it tomorrow? Will I have buyer’s remorse?
Is this an intelligent decision? How will I pay for it (credit card, cash, loan)?
Would it be best to sleep on it and see how I feel in a day or two?
Unconscious consumers tend to worry about the consequences of their purchase after the fact and push concerns of how they will pay for it to the side. Most will max out credit cards for things they want before paying past transactions, bills, or items they need.
The feelings associated with your purchase:
Emotionally intelligent consumers try not to get swept away by the short-term euphoria and excitement of a purchase. While they may not be as overwhelmed with bliss, their positive emotions and appreciation for their purchase tend to last far longer—possibly for the product’s life.
Unconscious consumers are more likely to live in temporary euphoria and excitement of having a new thing. However, once the pleasure hormones—dopamine and serotonin—wear off, they realize they are just as unhappy before making the purchase and quickly search for the next thing that will bring them another burst of short-lived pleasure.
The mindset behind your purchase:
Emotionally intelligent consumers often view their purchase as something that is needed (i.e., a new washing machine—when the old one breaks, lawnmower, tools), something that makes their life easier (i.e., a robot vacuum, Google Home, organizers), or something that will bring them joy and comfort (silk sheets, noise-canceling headphones, spa treatments or a personal trainer package)—out of personal interest versus social influence.
To clarify, it is not about the particular item purchased but the reason for the purchase.
When unconscious and socially driven consumers make purchases, they often feel compelled to show and talk about their new items. Doing so provides the individual with a sense of pride, entitlement, or prestige that they would not feel otherwise. Meaning, if they made the same purchase, i.e., a Prada bag, without anyone to show it to or talk with, they likely would not feel as enthusiastic about it.
After reading this article, if you tend to gravitate more towards being an unconscious and socially driven spender, don’t worry. This is not a flaw in your personality; it simply shows that, like many individuals (especially in Western culture), we have been indoctrinated into attaching our self-worth to things. By developing your level of awareness and asking yourself the questions stated above before you make a purchase, you will be able to shift your consumer habits to a more emotionally intelligent mindset. In turn, you will likely be more financially stable (if finances are an issue) or more content in knowing yourself and your inherent desires.