How to Defeat the Impulse Buy: Be Thankful for What You Have

imagesAs we celebrate Thanksgiving this week and head into the holiday season, David DeSteno (a professor of psychology at Northeastern University) tells us that with holiday shopping, curbing the impulse to buy isn’t always possible with willpower alone. However, being thankful for what you have can help! As DeSteno writes: “If you’re looking to avoid impulse-buying this year, take time not only to celebrate with your friends and family, but also to count your blessings. You may find that the easiest way to thwart retailers’ enticements as you peruse the shopping aisle isn’t to try to resist what you want; it’s to be thankful for what you have.” We here at NWEI concur! For his full article, click here. 

As Thanksgiving approaches, so does the holiday shopping season. Once again, a day traditionally meant to celebrate gratitude will inaugurate a month of rampant consumerism. As a psychologist who studies decision making, I’m acutely aware that marketers know how the mind works, and they aren’t hesitant to use that knowledge to stoke consumers’ desires and lessen their self-control. Tactics emphasizing scarcity (“only 10 televisions at this price in stock”) and delayed cost (“0 percent interest until 2016”) are employed to great effect.

Such tactics prey on one of the mind’s greatest vulnerabilities: the innate human preference for rapid reward, or immediate gratification…Can we, as shoppers, resist? Of course we can. We all have a proclivity for immediate gratification, but we are also all capable of self-control. The real question is: How do we ensure that we exercise that control?

A natural suggestion is to rely on willpower. But when it comes to holiday shopping, that is likely to fail. Research has shown that willpower tends to be limited. Each successful exercise of it actually increases the likelihood of subsequent failure if temptations come in quick succession (as they do, for instance, in shopping malls).

So rather than trying to override your decision-making impulses, a better strategy might be to try to change them. And recent research suggests that an effective way to do that is by cultivating the emotion of gratitude.

That’s right: As hokey as it sounds, the solution to the shopping season’s excesses may lie in the very message of Thanksgiving itself.

Psychologists have long known that negative emotions like anger and fear can alter decisions (often for the worse), but until recently, we haven’t focused on the effects of positive emotions on decision making. The emotion of gratitude, viewed from a cost-benefit perspective, stresses the long-term value of short-term sacrifice (e.g., If I’m grateful to you for a favor, I’ll work hard to repay it and thereby ensure you’ll help me again in the future). Consequently, my colleagues and I suspected that gratitude might also enhance patience and self-control…

To read the full article and learn more about DeSteno’s research, click here



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