Does Retail Therapy Really Work?

Sometimes when you’re feeling down you may find yourself in need of some “retail therapy." But can buying things really improve your mood? A survey done by Ebates concluded that more than half of Americans participate in retail therapy.

The survey found that approximately 63.9% of women and 39.8% of men use shopping to make themselves feel better.  The participants noted that retail therapy was used to get over a bad day at work, the announcement of bad news, or troubles with their significant other.

With the rise of online shopping, buying things has never been easier. But accumulating material goods isn’t the key to happiness, at least for the long term. Those who use shopping at a coping mechanism can find that it can be expensive as well as addictive. But in the end, moderation is key.

The journal of Psychology and Marketing published a study that concluded that retail therapy really does improve a bad mood. It further proved that we are motivated by rewards and this feeling of motivation can lead to a more positive mood. Those who choose to indulge and can exercise self-restraint tend to feel less regret in making small purchases. Planned purchases can be a way to exercise more control when engaging in retail therapy.

In an interview with Time magazine, San Francisco therapist, Peggy Wynne, notes that small purchases can indeed make us feel better in moderation. She suggests that retail therapy can be comparative to drinking in moderation.

The signs suggest that shopping as a coping mechanism that has gone awry are similar to those that occur in people who abuse alcohol. Feeling guilt or shame, hiding purchases or lying to friends and family is a definite sign that retail therapy has become problematic.

The shopping itself isn’t exactly what is therapeutic about retail therapy. The same article from Time Magazine breaks down the rewards of shopping into different categories. Buying new things can help with how we transition into different milestones in our lives. This out with the old, in with the new mentality can make us feel like we’ve been given a fresh start.

Another category mentioned was dressing for success. The Journal of Research in Personality conducted a study that people can accurately judge other’s personality based on their clothing, in this case, shoes. Perhaps the things we buy are a reflection of the mood we want to have.

Buying things is also a way of exercising control. When people are sad or frustrated, they feel as if they are lacking control in their lives. An easy thing to control is what we choose to buy.  A positive look on this discovery could be that if you’re looking for control, perhaps you are less likely to over-indulge when you go shopping.

Some suggestions on how to use control when engaging in retail therapy are to plan ahead what you might purchase. Walk into the store with a set budget, knowing you have control over what it is you’re buying. Avoid online shopping, since it is common to get carried away with the ease of purchasing things online. Pick out items, but then put them on hold. Many retailers allow a certain time period for putting items on hold. Perhaps by then you’ll be in a clearer state of mind and can responsibly pick and choose which items you’ll keep or let go of.

There’s no doubt that retail therapy can feel good. It’s not always a bad coping mechanism and it lets us get a grasp of some control. Like anything in life, use moderation.