The Psychology of Shopping Part 2


Have you ever gone shopping to make yourself feel better? Well, you are not alone. Recent studies have shown that more than half of Americans admit to engaging in “Retail Therapy.” First, let’s define exactly what retail therapy means and then look at why so many of us engage in it. Wikipedia defines retail therapy as “shopping with the primary purpose of improving the buyer’s mood or disposition.” Here are some of the motivations behind that goal.


Ever notice that when you are shopping for something, you find yourself imagining how the prospective product will affect your life? How new clothes will make you look and feel, or how new electronic gadgets will help you be more tech-savvy and informed? We often shop to accommodate changes in our lives, such as a new job, a big move, or a new relationship. We can be experiencing both excitement and anticipation, as well as anxiety. Shopping for items to facilitate these changes helps us usher in positive outcomes and ease anxiety.


Sometimes we shop when we feel that we are not fully in control of our lives. The freedom and powerful feeling of making purchases gives us that sense of control that we crave. We can define ourselves and our environment by willfully purchasing items that we feel truly represent us. The actual act of shopping, choosing, purchasing, and taking ownership of these new items gives a sense of satisfaction. We are making a statement of control over our lives.


Do you ever go shopping for relief of drudgery or boredom? A complete change in scenery by physically going to a mall or taking a moment to scroll through items online, shopping can be a powerful release not just from boredom, but for some, a respite from family or job pressures. The mind can go on vacation for a brief time, and the excitement of expectation or the sense of control can occupy our thought processes and bring needed emotional and mental distraction.


And let’s not forget the social aspect of shopping. Just being out in public among other people shopping and enjoying themselves can give us a sense of belonging, an important aspect of our humanity. The social aspect of shopping can reduce anxiety and increase self-esteem. Sharing a shopping experience with someone whose company we enjoy strengthens common ground as we visualize our expectations together.

Sheer Enjoyment

Finally, there is the simple aspect of enjoying purchasing new items we know we will love having and using. We can appreciate the quality, design, and durability of items we add to our lives. The long-term fulfillment of owning something that brings us pleasure is the most enduring aspect of retail therapy.

All of these motivations leading us to engage in retail therapy sound positive, and they are to an extent. But as with everything in life, a certain amount of moderation is wise. Chronic retail therapy begins to look and feel like an addiction. Credit card bills beyond our budget, a sense of guilt after shopping and constantly buying and returning items are all signs of excess. Instead of giving us escape, release, and control, too much retail therapy can lead to increased anxiety and debt. If you experience a strong sense of euphoria followed by a deep emotional letdown after a shopping experience, be wary of developing a compulsive buying disorder.

That being said, shopping can, and remains, a positive experience for the majority of people. Carefully thought out purchases will continue to bring us satisfaction long after the shopping trip is over. Window shopping, too, can often give us the same feelings of expectation, control, and escape that we are looking for, without breaking our budget or resulting in guilt or remorse. So, here is to happy shopping!



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