Shopping is good for you! Hooray!
It may not be good for your wallet or the environment, but let’s set that aside for the moment and bask in the good news. A study by Taiwanese researchers concludes that retail therapy has many benefits, like relaxation, increased physical activity and counteracting social anxiety. University of Michigan researchers have also examined the phenomenon:
“A report released last month by the University of Michigan Ross School of Business supports this theory [that shopping improves mood]. In the first study, people watched a sad video clip and then were given money to buy a snack. Those who did were less sad afterward. In the second study, participants watched a sad clip and then were either instructed to go to a shopping site where they were told they could either browse for useful items or choose things to buy. Those who were allowed to choose items to buy had lower sadness scores afterward.
“When participants decided to purchase an item, their levels of residual sadness fell as the purchasers benefited from the increased feeling of control. However, choosing not to buy did not reduce sadness.”
Apparently the boost comes from the feeling of control that making buying decisions confers, and the benefit is reducing sadness.
It’s interesting that feeling more in control improves mood. The people most likely to shop for happiness are less in control than those who don’t. The lower the income, the more likely people are to engage in retail therapy, and women are more likely to head for a shopping fix than men.
Why do women and lower-income earners seek out that feeling of control?
Sexism can take the wind out of women’s sails in many ways, including by denying them promotions that could give them more control and saddling them disproportionately with the responsibility of staying home with babies (who are most definitely in control of everything down to parents’ sleep schedule). And what could make a woman feel less in control than pregnancy, which takes over her body and wreaks havoc with it for nine months?
The other group more likely to seek retail therapy is lower-income people. They may feel overwhelmed by money problems and by the government bureaucracy they must navigate to get benefits some of them are entitled to. Often they are one illness or accident away from homelessness and may feel that they are constantly teetering on the edge of true poverty.
People with more money may feel more in control of their lives, not worrying about whether they will be able to make the mortgage or pay for a hospital stay. As for men, they control the world. Look at the numbers of women in top executive corporate positions or in the Senate — they are still not far from being tokens. These groups probably aren’t often short on feeling in control.
Now let’s get back to retail therapy’s ugly side. The obvious disadvantage is that it costs money. This could be a very real hazard to the budgets of lower income people who are more likely to shop for pleasure.
Another downside is the damage consumerism does to the environment. The packaging from new purchases is likely to end up in a landfill pretty quickly, and eventually the purchase itself will probably follow. Then there are the resources that went into creating the purchase in the first place. For instance, we all know that petroleum companies disregard animals, the environment and nearby human residents, but that doesn’t seem to stop us from buying petroleum-based items.
Retail therapy really is therapeutic, but its drawbacks are an incentive to find another way to boost our moods. There is exercise, social interaction, doing things that make us laugh like seeing a funny movie, and many more. You don’t get a bagful of prizes at the end, but you are very likely to feel better.
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