03/20/2015 03:57 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Has Debt Become Your Drug of Choice?

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"Today, there are three kinds of people: the haves, the have-nots, and the have-not-paid-for-what-they-haves. --Earl Wilson

When I'm teaching about prosperity and someone brings up the issue of debt, my answer is pretty blunt:

In Western culture, spending more than you have is a desperate attempt to mask the pain of not living your life's purpose. If you are living your life's purpose, you don't overspend and you don't end up in debt. Period.

(But how do you really feel, Dr. Matt?)

Not only can overspending be highly destructive to your life and cause all kinds of problems and stress, it can also keep you from recognizing the real issue: That we are all here to express our own unique life purpose, and that you were born to find that purpose and live it.

This seed of our purpose is inside us and, if we don't acknowledge it, we feel an unrelenting ache.

But since Western culture doesn't put much emphasis on "life purpose," we find other ways to ease that ache. We drink a little too much, we eat a little too much and we spend a little too much. And we're to the point where we think overspending is almost cute, right? You've seen all the bumper stickers about "retail therapy:"

  • "Shopping is cheaper than a psychiatrist!"
  • "Whoever said that shopping can't bring happiness doesn't know where to shop!"
  • "Cinderella is proof that a new pair of shoes can change your life!"
  • "I am not a shopaholic. I'm helping the economy!"

Don't get me wrong: I enjoy shopping myself. I love finding and purchasing just the right gift for someone or new toy for myself. But while think those sayings are funny, here's the hard truth:
Over-spending -- buying stuff you don't need with money you don't have -- works like an extremely addictive and destructive drug to mask the real issue.

Researchers have shown that dopamine, the "pleasure hormone" is released during the shopping and buying experience. And when dopamine is released, basically it is telling the brain, "Do that again!"

Check out your own experience. Let's compare why many of us go shopping to findings on why people use (and abuse) drugs and alcohol:

  1. Drugs and alcohol can ease the pain of anxiety and depression. Drugs help people numb their emotions and mask wounds. Drugs or alcohol make that person feel "normal" again, temporarily good about themselves and the world.

    Have you ever felt a little down and used a shopping trip to feel better? Maybe had a bad day and hit the stores to perk yourself up? Maybe even took a loved one to buy something to help them feel better after a disappointment?

  2. If friends, celebrities, role models and family members use drugs, it must be okay to do. Especially in young people, mimicking people they respect gives them a sense of confidence. If "everybody's doing it," it must be acceptable, right? In fact, if cool, successful people do certain kinds of drugs, aren't those the best drugs?

    Have you ever bought a watch because a favorite friend of yours had the same one? Purchased a new car every three years because your dad always did? Signed up for a new credit card because everybody's got credit card debt, right? It's the American way!

  3. Drugs help overcome boredom. It turns out that boredom is a big factor in drug use, especially in teens and young people. Drugs are used as an escape from the ho-hum routine and mundane world around them.

    How many of us have gone shopping to relieve boredom? We don't have something more interesting to do, so we hit the mall. Surrounded by all the hype and color and activity, dopamine hits the brain sending us feelings of pleasure. So we end up buying things we didn't even know we wanted until we got there!

  4. Drugs and alcohol help relieve stress. Who among us has no stress? Modern life has gotten easier in some ways. But in other ways, it's much more stressful and certainly faster-paced than in generations past. People use drugs and alcohol to calm themselves and slow their frantic thinking down, to get themselves to relax.

    Shopping can do the same. For many people, strolling past shop windows and looking at all the merchandise has become the new "nature hike." It's almost hypnotic -- which merchandisers count on so you'll buy things you don't really need on auto-pilot!

  5. Drugs are used to as a way "fit in" and socialize. Most people want to fit in and be accepted by the pack. Peer pressure is a huge factor in drug and alcohol use, especially in younger people. "Going out for a drink" is a common way to meet someone for the first time or establish business relationships.

    For many people, shopping together -- and buying together -- is a bonding experience, too. It's not just a trek we take to find items we really need, it's a family outing or a fun excursion with friends. And of course, buying the cool stuff that the cool people have makes us cool, right?

  6. Drugs and alcohol are used to get high. Not surprising. Many drugs overload the pleasure sensors in the brain. Others give a pleasant buzz. Alcohol can make someone feel less inhibited, more expressive. For most people, the small joys of daily life simply can't compete with the big high drugs and alcohol can bring. And once they've experienced that high, they want it again and again.

    For many people, searching for and buying something new releases dopamine, the pleasure hormone. It feels good to find that perfect something -- though often the pleasure lasts only about as long as it takes to drive out of the mall parking lot.

So how does this all relate to purpose?

People who are living their purpose don't need "retail therapy." They don't need to ease their "pain" or find new thrills. They aren't bored. They don't need stuff to feel cool or to connect to others.

They shop to, well, shop. Not to fill a void. They are pono (congruent and aligned) with money so they don't overspend and they don't get into debt.

Years ago, I did some research for a course on prosperity (it was slightly different than the course I teach now). I interviewed people who were living their life purpose about their prosperity consciousness. I didn't just interview people who had tons of money (though I did talk to a bunch of those) but to people who had an excellent relationship with money at all different financial levels.

For instance, I interviewed Uncle George, one of my kumu (teachers). Uncle George, lived very simply but had everything he wanted, and he had the ability to create more money whenever he needed it. I also interviewed a woman who, when we went shopping, was shopping for stores not the items they carried!

Through these interviews, I found that people living their purpose shared a very similar beliefs about money. Here's what they told me:

  1. The universe is abundant.
  2. The universe wants ME to prosper.
  3. All prosperity begins with belief.
  4. Money is an abstraction.
  5. Money is energy -- and will appear as you really feel about it.
  6. Money has no intelligence of its own
  7. Money will respond to the instructions I give it.
  8. Money demands attention

If you've fallen for debt as your drug of choice and you're ready to change that, I recommend you take time to find your purpose, make plans to begin living your purpose, release any negative emotions or limiting beliefs that might be holding you back, and take action. As Marilyn vos Savant wrote: "Avoid using cigarettes, alcohol, and drugs [and I'd add retail therapy] as alternatives to being an interesting person."



Matthew B. James, MA, Ph.D., is President of The Empowerment Partnership, where students learn Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP), Huna and Hypnosis. To find out more about NLP and prosperity, attend check out this free Prosperity and Money Mastery webinar. Click this link for more information: