How Shoes Can Make You Happy
Do you know that wonderful feeling when you’ve just scored a brand new pair of beautiful shoes? It makes you happy, doesn’t it? You are dying to wear them at the next party, when you visit your best friend or maybe to an important business meeting. There’s only one tiny problem: as times goes by, the happiness effect of the new shoes wears out… Let’s be honest: deep down inside, you probably knew this from the start. But, what the heck: let’s just buy a new pair! And there you go again…
Some researchers refer to this cycle as the ‘hedonic treadmill’: You get something that you appreciate (new shoes, higher salary, the latest Jamie Oliver chop sticks), you experience a boost in positive emotions, you get used to it, your emotions drop back to a lower level and then you need something new to enjoy. No offence, but it’s a little bit like a heroin addiction, you need a shot to get high and after the effect is diminished, you desperately need another shot. And we all do it, to some degree. Now we know what inspired Mick Jagger and Keith Richard to compose ‘I can’t get no satisfaction’.
So do we have to accept that a lot of things that give us satisfaction, will not work for us in the long run? Is there anything we can do about it?
I think we can.
First, the main sources of happiness are not about buying, but about connecting. Not about collecting, but about sharing. Not about being perfect, but about using your strengths. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t treat yourself to a nice new outfit once in a while, but it does mean that you shouldn’t try to buy yourself a happy life at Saks on Fifth Avenue (even though their shoe department has got their own postal code). What might help? I can think of a simple suggestion: using your strength of creativity to empower love and kindness, resulting in boosting your relationships. Let’s take a closer look.
Research suggests that the happiness enhancing effect of using your strengths of love and kindness, is a very powerful and enduring building block for a happy life. I sincerely hope shopping isn’t your only happiness source. When you do go out shopping, consider going with a friend or relative. Even better: buy shoes for that special person, because, like Shakespeare already knew 400 years ago: happiness is a perfume you cannot pour onto others without getting a few drops on yourself. Sharing your resources (money, time, knowledge, network) with others improves your own happiness too.
Shoes can really make you happier but, as I discovered myself, it all depends on how you use them. About seven years ago, I bought two pair of coloured shoes on sale, and decided to mix them, so I wore one red shoe on one foot and one blue shoe on my other foot for one day. I was surprised by the number of positive reactions I received from people. From that day on, I decided to ALWAYS wear two different bright-coloured shoes. And I can assure you: EVERY day people come up to me and start to talk to me about my shoes. It is one of the best icebreakers or conversation starters you could imagine! Although I’m not shy to start a conversation myself, quite regularly people approach me from behind, or even shout from across the street (especially in Amsterdam): ‘I love your shoes!’ And then they start asking if I buy them like this (in combination) or if I mix them myself (as I do), and they make jokes about it (‘you probably have an identical pair at home?’), tell me about their children who always mix their socks, and so on. And then, quite often, we extend our conversation to other subjects. So for me, shoes turned out to be ‘social connection enhancers’. Nowadays I even have people sending me pictures of new colourful shoes.
So, next time you wanna buy shoes: double your investment and triple your return: buy a friend a new pair of shoes. And if you still wanna buy more footwear, after that: buy yourself two pairs and mix them.
Then step out of the treadmill.
And walk around freely.
Please send me a pic.
Fredrickson, B. (2001). The role of positive emotions in positive psychology – the broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions. American Psychologist, 56(3), 218-226.
Niemiec, R., M. (2018). Character Strengths Interventions: A Field Guide for Practitioners. Hogrefe.