Feeling blue? Why not toss around a little green at Louis Vuitton, Chanel, or Hermès? Feeling better now? Maybe, or maybe not.
The idea that shopping can alleviate mental or emotional ills is informally known as “Retail Therapy”. Instead of lying on a couch and discussing your unhappy childhood, retail therapy is supposed to make one feel better by buying a bracelet, new shoes, even tattoos, alcohol and cars, rather than examining in-depth feelings.
Is it real? Many scientists believe it is.
The idea of shopping as mental therapy has been ridiculed as a silly, retail-promoted short-term solution to happiness. While shopping doesn’t replace serious psychological intervention when needed, its usefulness in some cases has been substantiated by several studies.
Dr. Kit Yarrow, writing in Psychology Today, said “more than half of Americans admit to engaging in ‘retail therapy,’” according to a study conducted by TNS Global for Ebates.com. Another study she wrote found that 62 percent of shoppers had purchased something to cheer them up while 28 percent bought something as a way of celebrating.
“While ‘therapy’ isn’t quite the word I’d use to describe the positive effects of shopping, there are indeed psychological rewards,” she continued, “How else to explain the immense popularity of shopping?”
Another study agrees and looks at retail therapy as a way of “trying to cheer oneself up through the purchase of self-treats. “
The “negative moods that lead to retail therapy” have also been associated with mindless out-of-control spending, which the purchaser may later regret, according to the study by A. Selin Atalay of HEC, Paris and Margaret G. Meloy, of Penn State. Still, these researchers appear to support, in moderation, the theory that you can still “shop ‘till you drop”. Their work suggests “that a bad mood does lead to greater purchase and consumption of unplanned treats for the self.”
But those who indulge “can exercise restraint” and if they spend reasonably it leads to improved mood.
Retail Therapy “has lasting positive impacts on mood. Feelings of regret and guilt are not associated with the unplanned purchases made to repair a bad mood,” the researchers said.
The global finance company Credit Karma has also looked at retail therapy, which it calls “stress spending”, and has found some interesting conclusions. The main causes of stress spending are money, job, anger, anxiety and depression. But 31 percent said stress from their immediate families is among the worst.
Buying clothes is the number one item purchased by women to elevate the mood, followed by food, compared to alcohol and personal electronics for men. Some other findings from Credit Karma are:
43 percent of respondents who had stress spent in the past reported spending $200 or more on a stress-induced purchase.
83 percent of stress spenders said they at least occasionally regret their stress purchases.
68 percent of millennials said they have stress spent in the past, compared to 53 percent of Gen Xers and only 26 percent of baby boomers
48 percent of men and 31 percent of women who have stress spent said they had purchased alcohol when stressed, with more than one-third of stress spenders admitting to having stress spent while intoxicated.