So here I was, temporarily implanted into the ultimate shopping paradise – Hong Kong. It was a late morning on a weekday, but the queues to enter the brand name boutiques on Canton Road, one of the city's main shopping arteries, were at least twenty meters long.
Somehow this scene reminded me of my Soviet childhood. Back then though, in late the 1980s Soviet Union and early 1990s post-Soviet Russia, we queued up to get toilet paper, underwear and some basic food items. The modern-day Hong Kong shoppers (the majority of those were mainland Chinese in the city for tax-free sprees) flocked the stores to acquire Louis Vuitton bags, Chanel and Rolex watches, Burberry coats, Hermes scarves and other luxury goods.
The Chinese, who're now among the world's top spenders, (the second largest economy in the world also boasts the highest number of dollar millionaires after the US) also reminded me of my countrymen of today. Russians aren't known to be big savers – they love to spend, to shop and, most important, to show off. Perhaps this is true for all cultures with emerging economies: we self-assert through acquisition of valuable (or so we believe) stuff, hoping this will buy us status and the place in the world we have long deserved. But I think we should all not make a fuss about this attitude, as it is the prevalent “belief” for the entire world. We spend fortunes on material possessions while looking for such intangible things as self-confidence, happiness and love.
So as I packed my newly-purchased goodies and prepared to leave Hong Kong to Moscow, I wondered how happier, if at all, I had become thanks to a few more designer bags, shoes and sunglasses. I did enjoy the shopping process in a foreign country which I was visiting for the first time, I was pleased to find and be able to buy the things which I thought suited me and I was content the stuff cost way less in Hong Kong than in Moscow. But was I happy? Yeah, because one of the items was a gift, from my partner, and that, not the possession itself, did make me happy.
In a newly-published book, Shiny Objects: Why We Spend Money We Don’t Have in Search of Happiness We Can’t Buy, Baylor University marketing professor James Roberts argues that humans are genetically predetermined to consume and accumulate stuff as they unconsciously fear for the times when food may not be available. But is this applicable to today's developed world?
“Now in the era of abundance, we haven’t learned that there’s plenty tomorrow. We’re still storing up, and we just never seem to fill that void,” Roberts says. And this chronic consumerism by no means makes us happy – just the opposite. We get depressed, as we tend to compare how much we own and how much we can afford – now just with our peers, but with the world's richest. And it's just never enough.
Not that I am against spending. Women love shopping, and, of course, I am no exception. But it also turns out that money could actually buy us some happiness – if we invest it wisely. Harvard and University of Virginia researchers recently put together a paper with a telling title, If Money Doesn’t Make You Happy Then You Probably Aren’t Spending It Right. The scientists have examined various categories of consumption and the satisfaction levels we derive from each of them. They found that fast and compulsive shopping sprees are the least satisfying – we rather enjoy looking forward to good things, taking time to make decisions and anticipating the result. Nor buying online is very rewarding: humans are social creatures, and going out to stores is one of those activities that many of us love, even if it's just window-shopping.
But a new Prada bag, a car, or even a house aren't very strong happiness-amplifiers either, as we quickly get used to them. The experts have labeled this phenomenon “hedonistic adaptation” - the joy from material acquisitions evaporates fast. Investing in services and experiences is a different case, studies find. The services strengthen social bonds which are vital to how we feel about life, and experiences create lasting memories. So spending on a good restaurant meal, a Thai cooking class or a vacation could make us happier in the long run than buying that trendy bag Jennifer Lopez sported in the recent People magazine photo.
But there's another thing which the scientists insist could make us even more contended than going on that long-anticipated Kenya safari trip. Being the most social of all living creatures, we feel especially rewarded emotionally when we invest in relationships. So buying a gift for someone is more pleasurable than shopping for oneself, and donating money say, to charity or some other good causes, gives us an even stronger kick than spending it on material things whatsoever (brain studies have been done to prove that).
And I couldn't agree with this more. The thought that I am going to give away some of the goodies as gifts to family and friends makes me really happy.
The views expressed in this column are the author’s and may not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.
Russia has always been referred to as feminine and Russian women have been one of the most popular stereotypes of this nation, both positive and negative. But is this an all-male fantasy? Here is a hip, modern, professional and increasingly globalized Russian woman looking at the trends around her, both about her gender and the society at large. She talks and lets other women talk.
Svetlana Kolchik, 33, is deputy editor-in-chief of the Russian edition of Marie Claire magazine. She holds degrees from the Moscow State University Journalism Department and Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She has worked for Argumenty i Fakty weekly in Moscow and USA Today in Washington, D.C., and contributed to RussiaProfile.org, Russian editions of Vogue, Forbes and other publications.