How To Be Happy: Ask yourself if you really need what you buy

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The Independent Online

'I am spending too much, to the point where I am waking up at night worrying about my credit-card debt. What can I do?' H.

Step 1: Avoidance strategies that work during the day by distracting us often fail when we are asleep and vulnerable to our ruminations and concerns. Consolidate your debts in the most cost-effective way by contacting the National Debt helpline on 0800 988 4140 for advice. Now cut up your credit cards. This will appear alarming but as soon as you have done so, you will be flooded with relief, as you will be regaining control. Living within our means as best we can is always comforting.

Step 2: Take time to reflect on what void you are attempting to fill in your life by overspending. You might have a need for more intimate contact with people, to be taken notice of, or to be reassured that you are not alone. We often spend to gain a sense of belonging, to seek recognition that we are indeed "somebody" or as a way of attempting superficially to nurture ourselves. Think also of your experience as a child. Was being bought things a way of feeling cared for by your parents? Were you neglected emotionally but given things as compensation? Think about whether your emotional needs as an adult are being met, not just by others, but more importantly by yourself.

Step 3: Spending creates the illusion of control, although this rapidly diminishes once we have left with our purchases. The ensuing unmanageable feelings are then assuaged by another "treat" and a habitual negative spiral is created. Explore the art of restraint. Wanting and needing are two very different things, yet we often tell ourselves we need something new when in fact the need is emotional rather than material. Do not be afraid to take your impulse buys back: it will give you a greater sense of mastery and control. Ask yourself, "Why did I buy this, do I really need it, can I live without it?" Most of us have too many things and we can gain lasting freedom from the hedonistic treadmill by editing our purchasing. By acknowledging the emotional reality of our spending habits, we no longer have to perpetuate self-sabotaging over-consumption and can take pleasure and satisfaction in what we already have.

Cecilia is Mind journalist of the year. If you would like her to answer your problems email her at c.dfelice@independent.co.uk

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