Those coffee and tea heavens have become an institution in our ever moving and changing society. The company can boast over 5000 retail locations both at home and abroad. We, the public, are hooked. Starbucks may not be cheap, a basic coffee costs as much as a dollar or two, more than most places, yet for the main part we continue to pay, even those of us who remain spendthrift in other areas.
Have you ever wondered why Starbucks employees all look so cheerful? Apparently they have a great place to work. More than a few cite great benefits and stress free work environments as major components of a great work package. Fortune lists the company as one of the top 100 best companies to work for.
Apart from those tempting beverages, what makes Starbucks so seductive, even addictive? Did you check out the paper carrier bags provided by Starbucks to transport your goodies? The color, the texture, words like global, ethnic, hip, futuristic, and helpful spring to mind. The “feel” is ever present. These bags help us to “feel” a part of something bigger. We may not be quite sure exactly what it is but it’s a good progressive feeling. Connecting and resonating with a place and need deep inside of ourselves that we want to be a part of, perhaps it’s the hope for positive change and unity.
We can go on extolling the virtues and positives of the Starbuck Coffee House chic, dimmed lighting, comfortable seating, attractive product displays. For the health conscious among us or the strict vegetarian, they offer beverages made with soymilk and in some places rice milk. Those are great non-dairy alternatives, especially helpful if you’ve found your waistline expanding while indulging in your favorite time out beverage.
As human beings we tend to identify ourselves in many different ways, often with products. One of the cleverest examples I have seen with the Starbucks operation is the insulating sleeve, placed around the cup. If you look closely, there are small square boxes printed on the sleeve with the choices: decaf, milk, shots, custom, and syrup beside those boxes. As you order the check list is ticked off. You receive your drink and it feels and seems totally and personally yours. You’re told to enjoy the product. There are even the words on the sleeve “the product you are about to enjoy”. In being given permission to enjoy, you in turn give yourself permission to enjoy. Never mind the calories and the caffeine, and perhaps the large helping of whipped cream floating on top or the extra dollars that you’ve paid.
What has happened is that you are identifying with your personal purchase. Of course logically those check lists are there to avoid confusion and make sure you get the right drink. But we all know to a degree that nothing is ever only as it seems. I have watched the look in consumers’ eyes and their reaction to those ticks in the boxes, a satisfaction almost as if one is being approved.
One simple example of fulfilling needs with quick fixes goes like this. I have a client who is a hard working man very responsible, with five children. He has a well paying job, but everything goes back into the family, time as well as money. One of his greatest longings is to have an hour to himself sometimes just to read a book. Through not fulfilling needs, he was recently in hospital with quite a serious health problem. He finally got to read a book. After a few weeks of coming for sessions, I asked him if he had been taking more time for himself and putting his needs first. He smiled and appeared elated as he told the story that he recently went to Starbucks, bought a coffee and took ten minutes to drink it at the airport on his way home after a business trip. He said he had never before allowed himself to spend so much on a cup of coffee.
Different needs at different times
Starbucks fulfill an array of its patrons needs at different times of the day. There is the morning rush, individuals being busy, busy on the go, somewhere to go, something to do, clutching their purchases on the way out, giving themselves a quick lift to start the day. Lunchtime meetings seem pleasant and relaxed ensconced in pleasant surroundings and comfy chairs. You can talk business, catch up on notes, laptops are open on tables along with the Starbucks purchase. Evening finds a variety of people meeting or passing through, friends, families, workgroups, lovers. Starbucks seems to be an ideal choice when meeting someone for the first time. It’s comfortable and informal enough, but also can be the perfect safe public place to meet that someone you don’t yet know well enough to invite home for a coffee. So far so good. Starbucks seems to have it made, firmly integrated in the national psyche.
The other side
Now let’s step back for a moment and look at another side, one that until mentioned seems to be overlooked. The use of caffeine as a stimulant is everyday, but there is no doubt that it is no substitute for getting enough rest, relaxation and sleep. The quick fix and high that coffee brings is also highly addictive and can lead to stomach upsets, constipation and diarrhea, and play havoc with the nervous system. Yet in today’s ever absorbing fast paced hectic lifestyle, we barely allow ourselves to feel and admit that we are tired and need a break. It’s somehow seen as noble to keep going and push ourselves beyond healthy limits. The cost however can be high because not truly fulfilling our needs and listening to our body and emotions is the fastest way to cause imbalance and possible health problems.
The emotional inner child
Let’s go back now and look again at those hot sweet creamy substances that we crave and find ourselves consuming whenever we feel like a treat. It’s normal when we are feeling anxious, depressed, tired, bored, upset and unfulfilled, or simply that something is missing in the moment or our life, to comfort eat and also comfort drink. It’s a form of self-soothing and self-medicating. The very next time you find yourself racing towards your nearest Starbucks, stop for a moment and ask yourself: Do I really need that hot chocolate, cafe latte or extra hot Lazo chai? Continue by taking the question to the next step, investigate how you are really feeling, what’s going on with you and what were the triggers. Stay with any uncomfortable emotions, breathe underneath them, take deep breaths, and slowly rub your stomach and your chest where your emotions are housed. Tensing your body for two minutes, then letting go, writing down your thoughts and feelings is an excellent simple but effective way to express yourself, unload and see where you are at. The important part is to let yourself feel and let yourself think, be in the moment, honor yourself. Blanketing our emotions with hot sweet creamy drinks is a coping strategy, but it’s also a quick addictive fix.
Self-image plays an important part in our life and indeed to addiction. We’ve seen that being busy has become noble, but when was the last time you allowed yourself to be still, do nothing and feel good about it? We don’t need to identify with a hot or cold drink to feel part of the human race. We are important and a part of everything already. Treating ourselves, taking a break, giving to ourselves has many different paths and expressions. If we keep settling for the hot sweet drink as our treat and reward, truly we are settling for very little. Of course I am not saying that it’s not OK sometimes to enjoy Starbucks and indeed hats off to the company for fulfilling a need and niche so well. But judging from the amount of people I have heard admit to a “Starbucks addiction”, it seems to be time that we stood back, took a deep breathe and reviewed the situation.
Other needs – a final thought
The great outdoors beckons, pavement cafes in Europe have long been appreciated and used. People watching has always been a favorite and indeed useful pastime. Interestingly I have heard more than one person say that they visit Starbucks to clear their head and gather their thoughts. Another aspect to the “take a break” scenario. A writer friend of mine tells me she can’t get going until she sits for a while and takes a break around people. The answer is actually quite simple. It’s in the mind. One could walk around the street, visit a shopping mall, watch traffic going by, watch a river flow or even stare at a running faucet and the effect would be the same. In essence, we are talking about getting out of your own possibly cluttered or static space and into the letting go, moving flow of life. Unscheduled time is important. We’ve heard that life happens when you are busy making plans. So taking a break is necessary, not simply a treat.
Making real choices
As we see life is about choices. We have more choices than hot chocolate with or without whipped cream. We need simply to stop and think, and express ourselves. Who knows with the extra cash you save on Starbucks you could go on vacation, pay to learn something new or save and buy something that really makes you feel good and bring greater pleasure than those Starbucks quick fixes. So let’s give ourselves a chance and take a step towards truly being the individuals that we really are and start living today a life out of the box.