“It won’t make you happy!” Derek Sivers responded to Tim Ferriss’s question of what he’d put on a billboard for millions to view. “‘It won’t make you happy.’ I would place it outside any big shopping mall or car dealer.” Derek would then go on to explain his idea for a fun project: training thousands of parrots to repeat those five words, and then let them loose in shopping malls and superstores around the world.
And while many of us recognize the value in Derek’s advice, how many of us will find ourselves ignoring it over the next few days as we fall victim to retailer whims and overspend on Black Friday?
With stores opening earlier each year and sale promotions increasing in their intensity, the International Council of Shopping Centers estimates that 80% of American adults will spend time in a mall or shopping center over the Thanksgiving weekend.
Which brings up the obvious question — Why, exactly, is there an International Council of Shopping Centers?
I don’t know. But maybe more importantly, why do we insist on doing this each year?
Why spend the limited time we have with our families to deal with ridiculous crowds, overspend our hard-earned money, and go into debt buying a bunch of things that we don’t need?
I don’t know the answer to that one either. But here are five main reasons to avoid the whole situation. And take pride in being part of the 20% who have their priorities straight.
You Won’t Save Any Money
Yes, there will likely be a handful of good deals to get everyone in the door. But retailers don’t develop these deals for your benefit. After all, they are using this time to make up for losses from the rest of the year and “get into the black.”
The entire model tries to get you into the door with a feeling of scarcity, and encourages impulse buys on bunch of other items that are all marked at full price. In these situations, you’re at a severe disadvantage — you haven’t researched the product, compared prices, or considered whether you actually need it. But caught in the buying frenzy, an artificial sale price may seem too good to pass up in the moment.
Fifty-six percent of Americans feel pressured to overspend during the holiday season, with many families taking 3–5 months to pay off the debt they build up. It somewhat defeats the purpose of trying to save money by shopping Black Friday if you make a bunch of impulse buys and sign up for several months of credit card interest.
It Sucks for Retail Workers
Retail workers already have a thankless job. They work long hours, deal with unreasonable customers, and get paid very little for their efforts. And with many stores opening earlier on Thanksgiving, they now have to miss spending time with their families. All because hordes of shoppers refuse to spend time with their own.
Retailers justify their greed by saying it’s only in response to consumer demand. They’ve continued to extend their hours, increase the stress on their employees, and resist wage increases that would help people. None of this changes while everyone’s happy to line up to save $30 on the world’s cheapest Blu-ray player.
The Sale Stuff is Usually Junk
Years ago, I bought a laptop for $80 on Black Friday. It shouldn’t have been too big of a surprise that when you pay $80 for a laptop, you get a laptop that’s worth $80. The thing was a nightmare; I spent more time trying to get it to work than actually using it. It wasn’t long before I gave up, went out, and bought something of quality.
Years before that I bought a found an amazing deal on a washer and dryer. It quickly stopped being amazing when the motor seized up, literally days after the warranty period ended. To quote the repair technician, “well, you can pay me to fix it, but I’ll probably just be back here again in six months.”
I’m not saying that there aren’t good deals to out there. But the majority of too-good-to-be-true prices are really too good to be true. Whether its electronics, appliances, or anything where long-term reliability is a priority, bring a healthy amount of skepticism to any bottom-dollar sale. Cheap crap is cheap crap.
You’re Sacrificing Your Relationships
In 1938, Harvard started a study to track the lives of men at both Harvard and throughout inner-city Boston. What began with 724 men, expanded over the years to include their wives and over 2000 children.
Robert Waldinger, the fourth director of the study, discussed the lessons they’ve learned from studying people for over 75 years in a recent TED talk. In his words, “The clearest message that we get from this 75-year study is this: Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.”
Now, for everyone who’s forced to spend time with their in-laws over the holidays, I can understand the temptation of trading in that “quality time” to stand in line with a bunch of strangers. But as Waldinger’s results showed, those who consistently prioritized developing and strengthening relationships lived happier and healthier lives. Regardless of their external situations, the one constant component for a happy life was good relationships.
These relationships won’t develop on their own. They come about from the time that we invest in developing them. Isn’t that a better investment than a cheap blender?
It Leads to Scarcity, Not Abundance
Thanksgiving, at its best, is about gratitude, reflection, and thankfulness. It’s a time to spend with family and friends and appreciate how fortunate we’ve been over the past year. Rushing through a family dinner so we can kick in the door at Walmart seems somewhat contrary to this purpose.
One of the easiest ways to quiet our minds and gain perspective is to take a few minutes and be grateful for something going well in our lives. Few things help put our troubles in perspective by focusing on the large majority of positive experiences we all have each day.
Black Friday retailers sell the message that we need more. They promote a scarcity mindset, trying to convince us that our current state is insufficient. Because it’s the best way to get people to spend their time and money buying things that they don’t need and very quickly won’t even want.
But as Derek Sivers put it, none of this will make us happy. Happiness comes from an abundance mentality. And as Dr. Wayne Dyer once said, “Abundance is not something we acquire, it is something we tune into.”
Use this Thanksgiving to tune into the relationships and the gratitude that will actually make you happy. Everything else is just a distraction.