Tie-ing Together Two Continents: My Holiday Experience Gift Part II

Two weeks ago, I returned from an incredibly heart-warming and productive nine days at Camp Sizanani, a camp for HIV/AIDS affected teenagers from the greater Johannesburg area.
My role at camp was to be an arts and crafts counselor and in the post I wrote before I left, I described that I was bringing materials for an art project that I was going to teach which I called Tie-ing Together Two Continents.

Using ties, shoelaces and other supplies that had been donated by my neighbors, the counselors and campers made colorful, inventive, original wearable art, all while singing and dancing!

To watch a short video of the counselors doing the project during their training, click here.

There’s so much that I want to share about my experience and how it continues to unfold.

One of the first places I did that was on the radio on January 5th, when I was a guest on Psych Up Live. I was interviewed by Suzanne Phillips about compulsive buying in general, what I learned about consumption from being at Camp Sizanani, and about my personal shopping challenges while in South Africa. You can listen to the free replay here.

Tie-ing Together Two Continents: My Holiday Experience Gift

Tomorrow I’m flying to Johannesburg where I’ll be one of two American counselors at Camp Sizanani,* a camp for HIV-AIDS affected teens who come from Soweto, a large township rich in the history of the struggle against apartheid.  Poor housing and infrastructure, overcrowding, and high unemployment are still the norm.  In addition to regular camp activities; sports, theatre, storytelling, dance, poetry, and arts and crafts, HIV/AIDS prevention education and life skills are integral components of the program.

I’m bringing two large duffel bags, filled with an impressive assortment of fabric remnants, shoelaces, zippers, seam bindings and dozens and dozens of richly patterned men’s neckties. All will be used for an arts and crafts project I’ll be doing with the kids, that consists of finger crocheting chains from the shoelaces, seam binding, or other material, then taking the ties apart, cutting or ripping the deconstructed ties and the fabric remnants into strips, and finally, tying these strips onto the chains.

These refashioned materials will re-emerge as necklaces, bracelets and whatever other objects spontaneously arise in the course of this creative art play. I learned how to make these from Debra Rapaport, one of the advanced fashionistas I wrote about in a blog post a few months ago (http://www.shopaholicnomore.com/research-news/can-advanced-style-retreat-compulsive-buying/).

Through my apartment building’s listserve, I sent an email to my neighbors, told them where I’m going, what I’m doing there, and described the kinds of supplies I could use; ten of them responded with generous donations. Some left shopping bags with the doorman or in front of my door; others invited me to come to their apartments to pick up and, in some cases, pick out, the hauls.

Some of the items still had price tags, others showed the wear and tear of being well-loved. The panoply of labels and styles suggested that these gathered riches had been purchased on a number of continents over a number of decades.

A few of my neighbors shared personal narratives about their contributions.  These stories of stuff ranged from hearing about one neighbor’s half finished sewing projects, long ago abandoned, yet never discarded, to hearing from another, who wrote that her husband died six weeks ago and had a lot of neckties for me.

When I went to her apartment to pick them up, I learned that her husband, Jack Greenberg, a noted civil rights lawyer who once represented Martin Luther King, spent a good deal of time in South Africa. Beginning in 1978, he traveled the country, introducing the concept of civil rights legislation to members of the South African Bar and to South African law students. At Columbia University Law School, in 1989, he taught a seminar on post-apartheid Constitution, which was attended by a number of the South African lawyers who later drafted the historic document.

How incredibly fitting to be bringing ties to South Africa, worn by someone who has positively affected the lives of each of these campers. I’ve put these ties in a separate bag so that each camper can include a piece as a tangible reminder of devastatingly hard won freedom.

My neighbors have been delighted to learn that their materials are going to live out their days, not in landfills, but in the hearts and minds, and on the bodies of these campers and their loved ones. Jack’s widow said he’d have been touched to learn how his literal and figurative ties would be revived.

May your run up to the holidays be relaxing and peaceful.

Warm regards,

April Lane Benson, Ph.D.

*Sizanani means “helping each other” in Zulu

How Can Advanced Style be a Retreat from Compulsive Buying?

Surrounded at dinner recently by six maverick women, ranging in age from their late 30’s into their 70’s, each dressed in the most creative, non-conformist, ensemble, how could it be that I was writing down the names of thrift stores? Each of these women looked like a million bucks, if not two or three.

We had all gathered at the invitation of Debra Rapoport, whose signature paper towel hats are the single most arresting piece of clothing I’ve seen in an age. (Both Merle and Debra are wearing them in the photos below.) I’d met Debra at a class that I took at the Museum of Arts and Design and we’d since become friends.  The occasion was the book launch of Advanced Style at the iconic Strand bookstore in Greenwich Village, New York City.

Advanced Style features the photography  and creative genius of Ari Seth Cohen, a handsome guy in his mid-30s whose childhood hero was his beloved grandmother. A model of zany elegance, she sported fun vintage jewelry; she and Ari discussed style.

Following her death, he’d come to New York, worked at a museum and started talking to women on the street who exuded the style and verve of his grandma.  Conversations and photographs gave birth to a blog; the blog begat two books [we were there to celebrate the publication of the second] and a documentary. It’s a bona fide movement.

To get back to my six dinner companions: With their obvious attention to display and to detail, one could easily imagine an overshopper or two in the group.  Yet, my strong impression is that there isn’t  a compulsive buyer among them.  Their pleasure is in combining, recombining, and stirring the pot of their accessory fashion instead of acquiring new.  The gravitational pull of the thrift store may be, in roughly equal measure, about saving their money, saving their planet, and saving their souls.

Let them speak for themselves.

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Merle Weismer

iseearteverywhere.com

“I went bead shopping today. I found myself saying, will I really use this, do I really need it? Also, stopped in Uniqlo yesterday and ran into the 2 freaky guys with the polka dot head [referring to two men that had been at the book launch]. They helped me find these promotional designer t- shirts for $10. Again, I found myself asking how much do I really need xyz.”

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Debra Rapoport (center), flanked by two young advanced fashionistas in training

“I don’t think I have an addictive personality. I do have a life style that is filled with creativity and to that I am “addicted”!   I don’t need to shop but love going to thrift shops to see what treasures there might be. I love to shop in my closet as I know there is everything there that I love no matter how many decades I have owned it. I have been labeled “Gifted and Thrifted” as many people send me stuff regularly. What fun that is!

I only buy things that I love and I know my taste, for me and my body, won’t change. How I put them together changes and evolves….but it is always about color, texture and layering.

Going into stores is not enticing to me. A thrift shop is different…it is the hunt and the quest and knowing that if I make a purchase the money is going to a good cause. It is a win/win situation.

I often do this with my partner or friends as a social activity. My other motto is “Frugality is Fun!” and it is.

After 70+ years what do I really need…letting go perhaps of some stuff that I have been carrying around for a few decades, but I do use everything!”

 

 

Patrice Wynne

“Advanced Style is a way of life for older women with a cultural message: we live by our own internal guidance, visible and free from cares about what the culture at large thinks about aging, women, fashion. We will be ourselves till we die. As we grow older and wiser, we realize that we have a natural style in creatively putting on our daily wear. We don’t need to shop for the latest and the greatest and the most expensive, because everything we need is in our own closet. Getting dressed is a creative art; our body is a canvas; our clothes and accessories are our paints and brushes. Juxtaposing our clothing in different colors and styles, shapes and patterns, decades and memories is part of the play of our lives. And if we want something different, we know where to go: thrift shopping, exchanging with friends, a pair of scissors for playful alterations, the back of our closets for orphaned article of clothing and drawers for old jewelry that can be refashioned into something reimagined.

Here is an example of those principles in action in my own life. In the photo on the left I’m wearing one of my own dress designs from Abrazos, my Slow Fashion fair trade clothing company in San Miguel de Allende (www.sanmigueldesigns.com). I just met this lovely Mayan woman who made the pom pom necklaces around my neck while on vacation in the Yucatan. By the time I got home, the necklaces had become hopelessly tangled so I cut them up and sewed them onto the bottom of a black linen skirt that I’ve owned for 20 years that I’m wearing in the second photo, at an Advanced Style fiesta in New York! Voila!”

Patrice Wynne (right) with a creative Mayan woman

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Patrice Wynne (left, on couch)

Fabia Brackenbery

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“I think I can say that my view is very similar to Debra’s.  When I worked, I was certainly hooked into shopping.  Many years ago now.

I know what I like, what excites and stimulates, nurtures or brings joy. I know my style and my taste.

Life changes, our circumstances and values change.  Mine changed by being medically retired in my fifties, having no income and having to adjust.  All of that was testing, there was loss.  Loss of earnings, loss of work colleagues, loss of opportunities to keep up with technology and skills. Loss of identity.

Then the revelation happens, and you find you can do without.  That there is joy in less and great, huge, wonderful pleasure in the challenges of making the best life you can from virtually nothing.  Post WWII baby. I grew up with parents dedicated to making ends meet, make do and mend was a favourite saying.  My childhood gave me all the tools I needed to survive a life crash and to arrive at an entirely wholesome and wondrous place of adventures in thrift land!  Bring it on! There can often be unforeseen blessings in loss.

There is probably a noticeable difference between spending because you are a collector of beautiful but useful textiles/objects of adornment that you know you can put to good use and apply and the shallow purchase of manufactured goods.  I am also a dedicated de-clutter expert.  I mean, seriously!  Review all possessions regularly.  If I find any thrift store purchases no longer satisfy my creativity or no longer have a use, I give them back to the thrift store and they make more money to help others.

While all are reading the 10 item wardrobe and the book on how to live with less, I have been doing it for 15 years and so wish I had the confidence to write those books first! Perhaps I could consider living with less over 60 as a new title?”

I have a very alone kind of life.  I have all day.  I am like Debra.  I find the excitement of the thrift stores in England fill my hours well.  I do not have to buy.  I am big on needing visual stimulation.  My life long love of art and textiles means that I can make discoveries every day.  Nurture my needs and never have to spend anything.”

Having met these unusual women and gotten an introduction to advanced style through them, I wanted more hands on involvement.

What might it feel like to be one of them?

I’d been collecting preloved items that I hoped to repurpose and went to Debra’s studio with a small bag.  I’d saved an old worn grey purse that had a great ruffled front in decent condition, and fabric from a pair of jeans that were too ripped at the knee to be able to patch, so I’d had them cut down and made into shorts.  For inspiration, I’d also brought a choker made of silk covered balls that I love wearing, wondering if I might be able to make similar covered balls out of the left over denim.

Within a few minutes, we’d decided to cut out the ruffled floral front from the handbag. Debra playfully put it on her head in a variety of positions; voila, the focal point of a fabulous hat.  We glued down the raw edges and finished it, using the lining of the handbag. Here’s a picture of Debra modeling it.

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Turning our attention toward the fabric that was left over when I made the jeans into cutoffs, Debra was persuasive when she told me that denim was too thick to make into the same kind of balls from my treasured choker. Instead, she suggested sewing the two pieces of leftover denim together at both ends, making sure it would fit over my head. A hint of flower began to emerge at the center front, which we took to the next level by transforming it      into a rose with a few well placed stitches, and tying off sections with assorted strips of fabric from Debra’s rag basket.

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With a dash of creativity and Debra’s seasoned eye, without spending a dime, I had two one-of-a-kind stand-out accessories, several new ideas to apply to future castoffs, and a strong desire to advance my own style.

Please comment; we’re eager to hear what this Advanced Style blog post evokes in you.

 

Are You Making Payments Too Quickly?

Forward​ ​movement,​ ​if​ ​we​ ​want​ ​to​ ​call​ ​it​ ​that,​ ​in​ ​Industry​ ​and​ ​technology​ ​has​ ​made​ ​monetary
transactions​ ​faster​ ​than​ ​a​ ​speeding​ ​bullet.​ ​​ ​Today​ ​it’s​ ​common​ ​to​ ​be​ ​able​ ​to​ ​make​ ​and​ ​pay​ ​for​ ​a
purchase​ ​simply​ ​by​ ​tapping​ ​your​ ​cell​ ​phone.

Efficient​ ​and​ ​convenient?​ ​Yes.
Risky​ ​and​ ​problematic?​ ​If​ ​you’re​ ​reading​ ​this​ ​soundbite,​ ​the​ ​answer​ ​is​ ​probably​ ​“yes.”

According​ ​to​ ​​American​ ​Banker​,​ ​a​ ​”very​ ​effective”​ ​payment​ ​approval​ ​takes​ ​no​ ​more​ ​than​ ​two
seconds.​ ​Faster​ ​purchases​ ​often​ ​mean​ ​less​ ​thoughtful​ ​ones.​ ​​ ​​ ​These​ ​transactions​ ​are​ ​designed​ ​to
be​ ​both​ ​fast​ ​and​ ​irrevocable.​ ​Fast​ ​payment​ ​approval​ ​offers​ ​no​ ​time​ ​to​ ​pause​ ​and​ ​skillfully​ ​consider
the​ ​purchase.

This​ ​being​ ​the​ ​case,
Are​ ​instant​ ​payments​ ​likely​ ​to​ ​exacerbate​ ​existing​ ​societal​ ​problems?
Do​ ​already​ ​vulnerable​ ​people​ ​overspend​ ​even​ ​more​ ​with​ ​effortless​ ​payments​ ​transactions?

This​ ​article,​ ​a​ ​refreshing​ ​challenge​ ​to​ ​the​ ​banking​ ​industry,​ ​implores​ ​banks​ ​to​ ​ponder​ ​the​ ​question
of​ ​whether​ ​“as​ ​fast​ ​as​ ​possible”​ ​is​ ​always​ ​the​ ​right​ ​answer​ ​and,​ ​if​ ​it’s​ ​not,​ ​what​ ​would​ ​be
appropriate,​ ​optional,​ ​and​ ​unobtrusive​ ​“payment​ ​reconsideration”​ ​steps​ ​or​ ​what​ ​constitutencies
should​ ​put​ ​them​ ​into​ ​place?

To​ ​learn​ ​more,​ ​click​ ​​here.

What Does Your Bank Look Like Naked?

Abstract design with,
Imagine that your bank took truth serum one morning and when you went in for a loan that afternoon, they told you the real scoop about the massive debt they’re hoping you’ll accrue with no regard whatsoever as to whether you can ever pay it off.
You’ve conjured up NakedTruthBank.com.

Early this spring, I was contacted by Gregg Jackson, who introduced me to the new public service website he authored, which uses “parody, with eye-catching graphics and humorous text, to warn people about the hype and traps of consumer debt. It offers branded credit cards for every delusion; limitless student loans; big debt for automobiles, adult toys, and elephants; and a frank ‘no-privacy’ policy.

Through humor and memorable images, the site reveals what the industry thinks of its clients—that we are stupid, gullible, and impulsive; how it profits from selling clients more debt than we can afford, despite that appearing to be self-defeating for the industry; and how its business model is similar to that of drug cartels, although without the risk of jail time.”

One ironic advertisement for Naked Truth Bank encourages readers to “live your dreams with extravagant debt.” Another states, “We don’t give loans, we sell you debt.”

Entrance of bank with
In direct opposition to the mercenary aim of this hypothetical bank, Greg isn’t looking to make any money off of this—only to be of some help in the battle against imprudent personal debt by alerting readers to the various ways the consumer finance industry tries to dupe them into imprudent and even disastrous debt, with the hope that when readers are subsequently exposed to these ploys, they will recognize the intent and resist the solicitation.I invited him to write a guest post and followed up with some questions. Here’s the story behind this shrewd tongue-in-cheek website from the founder himself:“The NakedTruthBank.com site began as two images for another website (Simple101.org, the Finances page). It was for that website that I first developed some visual humor to counter the consumption ethos of our culture.The first cartoon was of a credit card as bait on a rat trap, then a few more came to mind, and finally it occurred that I could create a whole satirical bank website.

I have never been a shopaholic, but family irony and trauma probably made me super-cautious about debt. At age 7 or so I asked my parents for a bike but they gave me a piggy bank and explained that when I had saved half the cost, they would chip in the other half. It took me a several months of shining dad’s shoes at $.25 a pop but I got a good used bike.

Several years later, however, my parents inadvertently taught me a darker lesson about personal finance. When my father developed a chronic illness and couldn’t work, it became apparent that my parents hadn’t accrued a “rainy day fund. We were forced to sell our comfortable 3-bedroom home and move into a one-bedroom basement rental.

Ever since, when I watch other family members, friends, and even acquaintances spend every cent they earn or go progressively deeper in debt, I dread that an unexpected setback with similarly unravel their lives.

I have been a borrower a few times (modest student loans for grad school), and a mortgage for a condominium apartment and later a house, all paid off as quickly as prudent. I am grateful for those loans but I disdain the way banks, retail chains, and also credit unions, are constantly encouraging people to borrow and spend more than they can afford. It galls me, and I hope the NTB website helps some people to avoid the trap.

I asked Greg what the response to his website has been.

“Several personal finance bloggers have mentioned NakedTruthBank.com and send traffic the site. The hope that it would be used in the personal finance courses offered in some high schools and colleges does not yet appear to have been realized, perhaps because many of those courses—scandalously but not surprisingly—have been developed with the sponsorship of banks and credit unions.

All the site’s materials, text and images, have been placed in the public domain and may be used without permission. Please alert people and organizations that might be able to make use of them. The site’s ‘Contact Us’ page welcomes comments about the consumer finance industry, its customers, and the website.”

NakedTruthBank.com can provide both a humorous distraction from impulses to overspend and a straight from the hip shot of hyperbole to penetrate even the thickest wall of denial.

Can Shopping Transcend the Fear of Death?

The world we live in is a confusing and chaotic place. News stories surprise and astound us daily—from the discovery of Genie, a child bound to a crib for 13 years, to claims of the next apocalypse. It is often difficult to wrap our mind around what happens in our world, our country, even in our town, which leaves us grasping for something contained and predictable: stuff. If we can’t control or even comprehend our world, at least we can control what we own. . Since the things that we buy will endure, we will endure too, the unconscious thinking goes. In this way, the object lends the individual a future. Buying can impart a feeling of immortality and permanence to our ephemeral selves.

Clear-tote-bag-skull-and-crossbones-printA recent ad for a fancy SUV taps lightly into this not-so-light issue: “To be one with everything,” it says, “you need one of everything.” With all of our belongings lined up like ducks in a row, w. e can achieve a sense of management and predictability that we simply cannot cast on our lives at large.   Perhaps one of the most unpredictable and ominous occurrences in our mortal lives is death. Death is that looming life event that is in some unreachable corner of your future, but only time can tell when it will rear its head. Stuff is a perfect foil to our mortality, which we can see by the mile-high landfills that only keep growing. Maybe, just maybe, if we have enough physical belongings linking us to earth, we will become immortal with them. As Tennessee Williams’ Big Daddy says in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof: “The human animal is a beast that dies and if he’s got money he buys and buys and buys and I think the reason he buys everything he can buy is that in the back of his mind he has the crazy hope that one of his purchases will be life ever-lasting.”

This tendency to link buying more and more things to buying more time on earth is present in life stories as well as psychological studies. Rick, a 54-year-old set designer, began compulsively buying after being diagnosed with HIV over a decade ago. When Rick’s friends notice his stylish and of-the-moment outfits, he feels reassured and can briefly forget about his grisly future. When his health takes a turn for the worse, his buying and spending balloons, but when he feels healthier, he takes a respite. With death staring Rick in the face, he tries to shoo it away with earthly possessions and the latest merchandise. If he can’t shoo it away completely, at least he can rid his mind of it.

Rick is not alone in this tendency to buy when faced with his mortality, which has been proven by psychological studies. This tendency has even inspired its own school of thought: terror management theory. Enny Das and her team showed a group of research participants one of two ads: one with death-themed content and one without. Both ads were for a newspaper and had the tagline “How long do you want to wait?” While the control group saw a picture of a boy waiting at a mailbox, the experimental group members saw their name and birth date on a gravestone. Sure enough, the participants that saw their name and birth date on a tomb stone were more likely to buy the newspaper subscription than the participants that saw the innocuous ad.

Could this finding be a fluke, and the participants simply interested in becoming better read and educated about the news so that they are remembered fondly at their funeral? Or, perhaps the participants think that reading the newspaper will make their mind more active and delay death? In another experiment, Das and her team tested the effect of death related ads for healthy vs. unhealthy drinks. While the healthy drink would likely lead to better health and possibly a longer life, the unhealthy drink claimed to have a high amount of caffeine and alcohol, which would not be likely to prolong life. The study found that the participants were just as likely to buy the unhealthy drink as the healthy when primed with their gravestone. This suggests that people are not simply buying goods that will lengthen their lives, but to assuage the anxiety of an unknown, future demise. As the authors of this study put it, “In a materialistic world, where consumption, money, and possessions are important cultural values, buying into a good deal may affirm the fact that one is a valuable member of society, and this may alleviate a fear of death.”

Although there is this prevalent, and even innate, connection between buying things and diminished fear of death, the hope will bring us no positive results. Things, no matter how long they endure, or how much they link us to the material world, can’t save us from death. The more we buy things with this fool-hearted hope, the more time, energy, money—and rich life we let pass us by. When we are buying the newest iPhone, when we have a perfectly good year-old edition, or buying $500 shoes that we know will pinch our toes, we may actually be exchanging our money for a pipe dream. How can we beat this automatic attempt to escape death by buying what we don’t need, and what truly cannot buy us any more time? “The best tip to guard oneself,” Das advises, “is to keep close track of your expenses when confronted with terrifying images (ads) or events (e.g., terrorist attacks), even if you are convinced that these images/events have no power over you.” The advice I leave with you is to spend every last moment doing what fills you with joy instead of spending every last dollar in hopes of more moments.

Does Sadness Bring Happiness or is that Inside Out?

Compulsive buying, like so many other self-defeating habits and addictions, is often an attempt to anesthetize negative feelings, diminish their intensity, or suppress them altogether. Pixar’s latest film, Inside Out, trumpets the value of feeling all of our feelings, whether they are Anger, Sadness, Joy, Fear, or Disgust, the five feelings personified as characters in the movie, or any others.

Inside Out has inspired dialogue among mental health professionals, many of whom admire the way inner conflict unfolds in the psyche of Riley, an 11-year old girl desperately trying to regain her cheery disposition despite the significant loss she feels, as a result of having moved across the country with her parents, without any friends or familiar comforts. While geared toward young audiences, this animated movie is truly relevant for all members of our “Don’t worry, be happy” society. It encourages the idea that as individuals, learning to experience all of our feelings, even the unwelcome, painful ones such as sadness, is necessary to reestablish emotional equilibrium.

After seeing the film, my friend and colleague Jill Edelman, L.C.S.W., incorporated themes from Inside Out it into a post she’d been writing about the high cost of denying non-joyful emotions (Pixar Outs Emotion in “Inside Out”: Denial Folds). As Edelman so eloquently says, “…without allowing sadness and other not-joyful feelings to be part of our children’s acknowledged experience and language, serious problems can set in.” Salon.com interviewed University of Texas cognitive psychologist Art Markman regarding his thoughts on Inside Out, stating, “We live in a society that tends to be very happy-driven. So we tend to discount the importance of sadness and of frustration.” He compliments the filmmakers’ acknowledgement that “…there is a good time and place to be sad. It’s one of the few movies I’ve ever seen that seems to critique blind optimism or shallow happiness.” The Freedom Institute, a well-respected outpatient addiction treatment center here in New York, published a piece (The Importance of Being Sad) that focused on this very idea, that sadness serves an important function in our emotional lives. Sadness is useful, necessary, beneficial, and important, a perspective that we’re introduced to towards the end of the movie, before which, Joy works with extraordinary efficiency to keep sadness in the background, as hidden away as possible.

It’s this treatment of sadness in the movie that has inspired some controversy. Buddhist inspired magazine, Mindful, (Does Inside Out Get Sadness Wrong) disagrees with the portrayal of Sadness in the film, stating, “Sadness is too sad.” Although Sadness sometimes appears depressed, lethargic, frumpy and off-putting, it’s eventually Sadness that helps Riley regain feelings of joy, and receive support, acceptance, and nurturance from her family and friends. Sadness prompts people to unite or reunite in response to loss; it grounds us and keeps us from glossing over real pain. For Susan Piver, a longtime meditation instructor, sadness has importance to happiness. She writes: “Despair is what happens when you fight sadness. Compassion is what happens when you don’t. It will not feel “good,” it will feel alive and this aliveness is the path to bliss.”

The role memories serve in Inside Out are crucial on Riley’s road to healing. The film depicts memories with extraordinary delineation; important core memories that are protected and respected, or unworthy insignificant memories that are thoughtlessly discarded. The core memories are precious, constructing Riley’s entire perception of her existence from infancy to her current pre-pubescence. Throughout the majority of the movie, Riley’s core memories shone yellow, indicating that these were moments of joy and happiness. Joy worked steadfastly to keep Riley’s core memories yellow, fearing that even a tinge of blue sadness would threaten to change and worsen Riley’s perception of these important life experiences. However, during a poignant moment at the end of the film when Sadness united with Joy in Riley’s core memories and emotional repertoire, she was able to reconnect her emotional bond with her parents, her childhood joys, her fear of the dark night, her grief, and her powerful past attachments. Only then were tears allowed to roll down her cheeks in their animated glow. Only then was Riley able to return home and begin the next chapter in her developmental journey.

The essential role of responsive and sensitive parenting that Riley receives from her parents works in tandem with the continuous effort of her emotions to help her eventually feel safe enough to express her sadness. Along with the countless lessons that parents impart on their children, Inside Out illustrates the importance of parents’ teaching children to acknowledge and appreciate their own emotions by helping them to do so.

This is a tall order for the average parent and one beef that I’ve got with the movie that I haven’t seen mentioned in any of the reviews or blog posts about it is Riley’s parents are portrayed as nearly perfect parents, with a capacity for warmth, understanding, and empathy that is very rare indeed. To my mind, this makes the movie harder to relate to.

That criticism notwithstanding, the movie gives voice graphically to what 12th century Sufi philosopher, Rumi, so elegantly illustrates in his beautiful poem, The Guest House. We must welcome, honor, respect, and show appreciation for the array of feelings that inhabit our beings. “Be grateful for whoever comes, because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.” Inside Out echoes this perspective, clueing us in to the notion that not only is it acceptable to have feelings contrary to happiness, but it is necessary to have these feelings in order to be our best selves and ultimately be able to access happiness. For compulsive buyers as well as others suffering from addiction, Inside Out reminds us, that not silencing, but truly experiencing and giving voice to our inner world, is tantamount to recovery.

A Look at Inside Out: Can Sadness Ultimately Bring Happiness?

inside out picCompulsive buying, like so many other self-defeating habits and addictions, is often an attempt to anesthetize negative feelings, diminish their intensity, or suppress them altogether. Pixar’s latest film, Inside Out, trumpets the value of feeling all of our feelings, whether they are Anger, Sadness, Joy, Fear, or Disgust, the five feelings personified as characters in the movie, or any others.

Inside Out has inspired dialogue among mental health professionals, many of whom admire the way inner conflict unfolds in the psyche of Riley, the 11-year old protagonist. Despite the significant loss she feels as a result of having moved across the country with her parents without any friends or familiar comforts, Riley is desperately trying to regain her cheery disposition. While geared toward young audiences, this animated movie is truly relevant for all members of our “Don’t worry, be happy” society. It encourages the idea that as individuals, learning to experience all of our feelings, even the unwelcome and painful ones such as sadness, is necessary to reestablish emotional equilibrium and keep pain from turning into suffering.

After seeing the film, my friend and colleague Jill Edelman, L.C.S.W., incorporated themes from Inside Out into a post she’d been writing about the high cost of denying non-joyful emotions (Pixar Outs Emotion in “Inside Out”: Denial Folds). As Jill so eloquently says, “…without allowing sadness and other not-joyful feelings to be part of our children’s acknowledged experience and language, serious problems can set in.” Salon.com interviewed University of Texas cognitive psychologist Art Markman regarding his thoughts on Inside Out, stating, “We live in a society that tends to be very happy-driven. So we tend to discount the importance of sadness and of frustration.” He compliments the filmmakers’ acknowledgement that “…there is a good time and place to be sad. It’s one of the few movies I’ve ever seen that seems to critique blind optimism or shallow happiness.” The Freedom Institute, a well-respected outpatient addiction treatment center here in New York, published a piece (The Importance of Being Sad) that focused on this very idea, that sadness serves an important function in our emotional lives. Sadness is useful, necessary, beneficial, and important, a perspective that we’re introduced to towards the end of the movie. Earlier in the movie, Joy works with extraordinary efficiency to keep sadness in the background, as hidden away as possible.

It’s this treatment of sadness in the movie that has inspired some controversy. Buddhist inspired magazine, Mindful, (Does Inside Out Get Sadness Wrong) disagrees with the portrayal of Sadness in the film, stating, “Sadness is too sad.” Although Sadness sometimes appears depressed, lethargic, frumpy and off-putting, it’s eventually Sadness that helps Riley regain feelings of joy, and receive support, acceptance, and nurturance from her family and friends. Sadness prompts people to unite or reunite in response to loss; it grounds us and keeps us from glossing over real pain. For Susan Piver, a longtime meditation instructor, sadness has importance to happiness. She writes: “Despair is what happens when you fight sadness. Compassion is what happens when you don’t. It will not feel “good,” it will feel alive and this aliveness is the path to bliss.”

The role memories serve in Inside Out is a crucial stop on Riley’s road to healing. The film depicts memories with extraordinary delineation; important core memories that are protected and respected and insignificant memories that are thoughtlessly discarded. The core memories are precious, constructing Riley’s entire perception of her existence from infancy to her current pre-pubescence. Throughout the majority of the movie, Riley’s core memories shone yellow, indicating that these were moments of joy and happiness. Joy worked steadfastly to keep Riley’s core memories yellow, fearing that even a tinge of blue sadness would threaten to change and worsen her perception of these important life experiences. However, during a poignant moment at the end of the film when Sadness united with Joy in Riley’s core memories and emotional repertoire, she was able to reconnect with her parents, to reconnect with the joys she’d felt as a child, and reconnect with her grief about the loss of her childhood home.  This allowed Riley to stop running away, return home, and begin the next chapter of her life.

My only quibble with the movie was that Riley’s mom and dad were a study in confusing contrasts, at times self-absorbed and avoidant and at other times,  portrayed as nearly perfect, with a capacity for warmth, understanding, and empathy that is very rare indeed. In an email exchange with Jill Edelman, she said, “It’s pretty accurate for many parents today whose ambitions displace inquiry and curiosity about what their children are feeling.” My criticism notwithstanding, the movie gives voice graphically to what 12th century Sufi philosopher, Rumi, so elegantly illustrates in his beautiful poem, The Guest House. We must welcome, honor, respect, and show appreciation for the array of feelings that inhabit our beings. “Be grateful for whoever comes, because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.” Inside Out echoes this perspective, clueing us in to the notion that not only is it acceptable to have feelings contrary to happiness, but it is necessary to have these feelings to be our best selves and ultimately be able to access happiness

When Riley’s parents do offer her responsive and sensitive parenting it works in tandem with the continuous effort of her emotions to help her eventually feel safe enough to express her sadness. Along with the countless lessons that parents impart to their children, Inside Out illustrates the importance of parents teaching children to acknowledge and appreciate their own emotions by helping them to do so. Often this isn’t an easy task, but it’s a vitally important one.

For compulsive buyers as well as others suffering from addiction, Inside Out reminds us that not silencing, but truly experiencing and giving voice to our inner world, is tantamount to recovery.

Alixandra Blackman, M.S.Ed.  has recently joined our staff. This blog post is largely the result of discussions we had about the film and was written by both of us.

Is New Brain Research on Happiness Creating a Monster?

You know the feeling.money-happiness1

That little rush when your eye drifts to the ads on the side of your favorite social media page.

Those little blurbs speak to your love of leather handbags, gourmet burgers, or tech gadgets.

They call for just a quick click, a minute browse… and your credit card.

Those ads – and that gleeful little rush of purchase pleasure – are no accident.

 

In fact, more and more social media outlets and retailers, large and small, are chomping at the bit to use what we’re learning from brain research to make us happier.

More alarming, marketers hope these research results will show them how to link our happiness to an ongoing desire to buy more and more stuff.

It’s a retail world. And happiness is no longer an unknown continent.

Soon, our understanding of the brain and behavior will align itself with social economics and we will have located happiness, defined its borders, and measured it.

With the lay of the land understood, our happiness can, and will, be sold.

So, if human happiness is now a commodity, how will we use it?

Is “happiness science” creating a marketing monster?

 

Happiness for sale is not new.

Many of us often opt for retail therapy because we believe the market media suggestion that the key to your happiness is in the bottom of your latest shopping bag.

However, when we try to get a grip on what happiness really is, we have trouble defining it. Knowing happiness when we see it is an age-old pursuit of philosophers, merchants, and now scientists alike.

In an effort to define happiness more clearly, a new field called “psycho-economics” has developed over the last 15 years:

  • In 2002, the Nobel prize for behavioral economics was awarded to Daniel Kahneman for his research regarding happiness. His work is foundational to the belief that happiness is a measurable experience, available for study.
  • In 2005, Happiness – Lessons from a New Science, a worldwide bestseller, was written by Britain’s “Happiness Tsar,” social economist Richard Layard. Layard’s research supported his conclusion that much of what we experience as depressive illness, or “unhappiness,” today has a greater negative impact on society than serious economic ills, like unemployment.
  • In 2008, Layard’s findings fueled positive social change. The British Labour government adopted a sort of  “happiness agenda.” Positive psychology for the general public was touted as legitimate and necessary. Significant amounts of national resources were allocated to addressing societal depression.

 

The Money = Happiness Connection

For more than four decades, Layard and other social economists have also investigated the intriguing relationship between happiness and income, a topic we’ve looked at in other posts. Recent happiness/wealth research tells us that incomes topping $75,000 per year reveal no increases in happiness. An interesting finding, considering governmental concern regarding the social problems caused by economic inequality.

Government and wealthy citizens, even those who appreciate Kahneman and Layard’s happiness research, however, are not quick to take on the idea that riches don’t make you happy — even though it’s clear that when voters go the polling stations, their votes generally reflect their happiness or discontent; not their incomes.

Social economists are keenly aware that shifting public policy away from income and material accumulation, to life satisfaction, is a slow process.

Finally, there lingers the problem of  “success”. According to Layard, a contest of societal perceptions is always at work. Does success require competition and besting each other? Or is success the satisfaction of contributing to one another? Can we change our assumptions about success, and come to believe that life should center on a broader conception of happiness?

 

Happiness for sale…with a new twist

Sale of new items, based on potential leaps in health and happiness, is old hat. But  with new technology, comes a new twist. The happiness we’re sold affords a second stream of income marketers can’t wait to cash in: Information.

The market now contains smart equipment, intelligent apps, and body monitors able to collect data concerning our habits — habits marketers analyze and mark “for sale.” Our data is currency and commodity, and as the century progresses, advertisers are more and more able to track our lives and anticipate our moods for profit.

It isn’t hard to imagine the happiness devices, good spirits gizmos, and gladness gadgets that are likely on the horizon.Truth be told, I did purchase a watch that purports to improve well-being and quality of life. It promised to harvest the natural frequencies that constantly circle the earth and channel them to my body.

However, I haven’t noticed an uptick in, what I’m happy to say, is a characteristically optimistic outlook; a quality I’m lucky enough to have acquired, developed, or inherited somewhere along the way. Making the purchase however, does give me pause.

Neurologists are doing their best to locate our internal ”purchase prompt,” the trigger in the brain that drives us to buy, and buy some more. Data collectors are honing their ability to discern when we’re in the mood to shop. Marketers are using what they know about happiness economics, and psychology, to make us determined to have the item we believe will make us happier.

 

Do compulsive buyers stand a chance in the face of such powerful lures?

It just may be that  positive psychologists and happiness economists have created a monster they can’t rein in. Their work was meant to highlight the idea that money and belongings don’t improve our happiness. But it seems the crowd of consumer scientists and market researchers overwhelm that perspective, pushing the idea that contentment comes best from a wallet full of cash, and a trip to the mall. Caveat emptor.

What Stage of Change Are You In?

Despite what you see when you look at your credit card bills or what you hear when a creditor calls, or what you see when you try to open your closet and stuff falls on you, do you still think that your shopping is under control?

Have you begun to see the costs, financial and otherwise of your overspending, but still find yourself going back and forth about whether it’s really a problem?

Are you preparing to take steps to curb your overspending?

Do you have a plan in place that will help you stop overshopping?

Have you mostly stopped overspending or overshopping and now you’re just trying to maintain those gains?

Have you made progress and now find yourself lapsing or relapsing?

Each of these questions represents a different stage on the continuum of change. Looking at change in this way first became popular in the late 1970’s with the introduction of J.O. Prochaska and C. DiClemente’s Stages of Change model. Since that time, the stages of change framework has been successfully applied to a number of addictive problems including eating disorders, alcoholism, substance abuse and people who are in debt counseling to help people identify where in the change process they are and to build and maintain motivation to change. A recent article in the Journal of the Financial Planning introduces and extends its use to people with compulsive buying behavior, which is why I wanted to share it with you. Read it and you’ll be much better able to identify where you are in the change process and what you need to do to progress further.

An understanding of the stages that people with addictions go through as they begin to move through the process of recovery from denial and ambivalence through preparation, action, and maintenance drives the model, which is also aligned with Motivational Interviewing, a form of therapy that helps a client develop and maintain motivation to change.

During the denial stage, an overspender is either unaware of or unwilling to acknowledge his or her problematic behavior. Individuals in this stage may seek professional help not of their own volition, but because friends or family have seen the cost of the compulsive buying behavior and insist that the overshopper get help. Often, as a result of that help, an individual progresses to the ambivalence stage, during which he or she begins to recognize the negative consequences of this behavior, but is still torn between acknowledging the problem and continuing to overshop or overspend.

When the pendulum of ambivalence swings toward the “I need to change” side, the preparation stage begins, during which the person no longer resists the notion of change and, often with a professional’s help, starts to put together a plan for moving forward. The implementation of the plan indicates that an individual has moved into the action stage; he or she begins to substitute new, positive behaviors for self-defeating overshopping and overspending. Once the action phase is complete, the maintenance stage begins. An overshopper in this phase has developed successful ways to deal with triggers and other stressors and is moving toward sustaining the changes he or she has made in the direction of financial independence and greater emotional stability.

This is not a fixed stage, given the fact that powerful, tempting shopping triggers may exist, which may necessitate additional strategies, including learning how to deal with inevitable lapses and sometimes full-blown relapses. Relapsing is a normal, predictable and sometimes even necessary part of this process; post relapse, an overspender needs to revisit and reintegrate the stages of change to back on track.

A detailed and compelling case example brings the model to life and shows you how one overshopper made enormous progress using this valuable structure.

While the article is addressed to financial advisors, overshoppers and overspenders and the people who love them will learn a great deal of useful, actionable information.

To read the whole article, click here

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