Why People Happily Spend Money on Snacks, Smartphones, and Slot Machines—But Not Coaching or Therapy.
I recently entered my 29th year of practice in the field of emotional health.
Through the decades, I’ve seen a number of things change—hairstyles, clothing trends, music, cars, technology, and communication preferences.
One thing hasn’t changed, though.
Today—as always—many people are fine with spending hundreds of dollars every year on new clothes, toys, gadgets, beauty products, concert tickets, slot machines, or the latest, greatest, most high-definition TV set on the market (there’s always a new one, without fail!), but many people are still very reluctant to spend money on life coaching, therapy, counseling, and other forms of “self-investment” and “personal development.”
After all, people want to be happy. People want to reach their goals. People want to fight less, worry less, stress less, and enjoy more peace and satisfaction at home, at work, and in their relationships. Hiring a coach or therapist can help with all of those goals—and so many others. So, why are so many people so reluctant to “invest”?
I have a few theories.
: Often, people don’t want to face their feelings.
This is unfortunate, but also completely understandable. If you are grieving a divorce or break up, for example, it’s much “easier” to go and buy a new outfit than it is to describe your shame, fear, and anxiety to a total stranger. Some people worry that if they “dive in” to whatever they’re feeling, it will “unleash” something dangerous and unmanageable. Clients have said to me, “If I start crying, I don’t think I will ever be able to stop.” This fear can inhibit people from seeking help. They just don’t want to “go there.”
: People crave a “quick fix.”
Therapy and coaching are both powerful processes—but rarely do either work “overnight.” Both require the client to show up and “do the work”—often for many days, weeks, or months. Typically, there’s no “miracle balm” when it comes to emotional wellbeing. From a consumer’s standpoint, commitment and dedication to emotional healing where results are not necessarily immediate, might not sound as tantalizing as a new TV set that can be shipped to your door in 2 days or less.
People tend to crave a “quick fix.” That’s not something that good therapy or coaching can promise.
: People feel that investing in happiness is “frivolous.”
Some people learn, at an early age, that pursuing happiness is “frivolous” or even “selfish.” These lessons can be deeply ingrained.
I’ve heard many people say things like, “I don’t deserve to spend money on this [retreat / service / program / etc]. It’s frivolous.” Yet that same person might spend hundreds of dollars on a concert ticket or a slot machine in Las Vegas—something that provides an “instant but fleeting” sense of enjoyment. Strange, right? For some reason, in our culture, investing in “entertainment” is fine—but personal growth and healing, less so.
: People feel ashamed to seek help.
Many people are ashamed of having “problems.” Too ashamed to seek help. I often hear things like, “I am a medical doctor, I should have my sh*t together…” or “I’m an adult, not a kid, I shouldn’t be struggling with this anymore…” or “I’m the CEO of a company, I manage a lot of people, I have a PhD, so I should be able to figure out how to stop overeating on my own!”
The truth is that everybody—no matter how mature, seasoned, skilled, or educated—needs help from time to time. But investing in “help” can be emotionally tricky for many people. Some people feel that seeking help means they are “weak” or “dumb” or “lazy,” or “a failure” (none of which are true). But, unfortunately, these and other social stigmas associated with therapy and coaching, deter some people from reaching out for help.
: People don’t believe it will “work.”
Above all else, this is the unspoken barrier for many people. A man or woman might visit my website—or someone else’s—and think, “Well, sure, that all sounds great… but will coaching actually work for me? Will I reach my goals? Is it guaranteed? How can I be sure I’ll get my money’s worth?”
When you order a gadget on Amazon, you can be 100% certain that you’ll receive your product—or your money back. When you order a slice of cheesecake from your favorite bakery, you can be close to 100% certain that it will be delicious and that it will (temporarily) make you feel happy.
When you invest in therapy or coaching, on the other hand, there’s much less “certainty” about the “results” you’ll get. Because you’re not buying a snack or a product, you’re investing in an interdependent process, and in order for the process to “work,” you have to show up and do your part just as much as the specialist that you’ve hired to help you. Investing in personal growth can feel far more complex, nuanced, and less “certain” than just buying “stuff.”
If you want to change your life, and you’re curious about therapy or coaching, but feel hesitant, what can you learn from all of this?
Take a moment to self-reflect—on the fears, doubts, and the stigmas or biases that might be fueling your reluctance. Think about what is holding you back, and why.
If money is a concern, consider the “cost” of doing nothing. Where will you be, two or three years from now, if you continue to repeat the same patterns that are making you unhappy, today? What’s the “cost” of inaction? What’s the “cost” of remaining stuck? The cost may be very high, indeed.
Do you need to adjust your attitude about investing in your happiness, health, and wellbeing? Can you really put a price-tag on your inner peace and happiness? Can you put a price-tag your family’s wellbeing? What is your health “worth” to you? Hopefully, quite a lot.
There’s nothing “wrong” with treating yourself to beautiful things and experiences. By all means—savor a beautiful meal at your favorite restaurant, enjoy your summer vacation by the lake, grab a new book at the shop, and treat yourself to a fabulous haircut. Just remember: as delicious as those things are, they are fleeting experiences. The transformation that you can create through therapy or coaching, on the other hand, can last a lifetime.
There is no investment that offers a greater return than your investment in yourself.
Dr. Suzanne Gelb is a clinical psychologist and professional life coach.
She believes that it is never too late to become the person you want to be. Strong. Confident. Calm. Creative. Free of all of the burdens that have held you back — no matter what has happened in the past.
Her insights on personal growth have been featured on more than 200 radio programs, 200 TV interviews and online at Time, Forbes, Newsweek, NBC’s Today, The Daily Love, MindBodyGreen, and much more.
Step into her virtual office at DrSuzanneGelb.com, explore her blog, book a coaching session, or sign up to receive a free meditation and her bi-weekly writings on health, happiness and self-respect.
Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional or psychological advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always contact your physician or other health provider before beginning any new personal growth or health practice and about any questions you may have about your well-being.