Retail Therapy: Four Reasons Why it Works
A childhood memory that lingers is that of colorful plastic crockery and other items that lined our kitchen and dining room shelves. My mother used to buy tones of them every now and then, we kids used to joke that one day we would have our own crockery store boasting a rare collection.
Now I realize it was no Joke. It was a coping mechanism that my mother was using after my father passed away at a very young age. We as young kids couldn’t have fathomed the extent of upheaval that her life underwent, and shopping was perhaps her way to impart some semblance of control to the circumstances. Maybe the colorful plastic crockery also added soothing hues to the life that had suddenly become a shade of greys.
Without knowing it, my mother was actually giving herself retail therapy. So how and why does retail therapy work? Who can benefit from it and when?
Works as a Coping Mechanism
There is evidence that, at times, shopping works as a coping mechanism in times of stress and sadness. When things seem to be slipping out of control, being able to exercise autonomy in one area can give a sense of agency. You get to choose the thing you want and you can have it.
A research study at Michigan University points out that retail therapy can help people overcome low moods. The study cites empirical evidence that shows ‘buying something’ is an effective strategy for fighting melancholy and restoring a sense of control.
Retail therapy, however, can be both conscious and unconscious. You can go for it deliberately to give your mood a boost when you need it. Such conscious moves can add to the sense of autonomy and positive feelings as it is akin to becoming your own therapist and deciding what works for you.
Induces a sense of Expectancy
A friend lives a comparatively secluded life- not her own choice, though – in a small city near Lahore. She makes it a point to visit Lahore for her shopping.
The shopping expedition makes her happy and helps dispel the blues, at least for some time, that her secluded life subjects her to. It’s not just about the things that she buys but the entire activity cycle that she can visualize for many days ahead. There is something to look forward to. If it is clothing fabric then the process involves buying accessories to go with it, designing, giving it to the tailor, thinking of when to wear it, etc. And if it is some home décor item there is the whole process of visualizing how it would add to the beauty or comfort of her home.
Seen in this light, shopping has an element of ‘mental preparation’ to it. It involves an act of visualization where you visualize the details of how your life would, albeit in small ways, change and add an element of newness to the monotony of life. Visualization, studies have pointed out, can act as an anxiety reducer and performance booster.
Forges Human Connection
Markets, stores and even roadside vendors serve as centers where we build a human connection with strangers. Consider a housewife who goes out for her daily purchases and gets to chat with the neighbors and vendors, sharing local stories and gossip or just making small talk.
Your favorite retail outlets where the salesperson has come to know you and your preferences induces a warm welcoming feeling; similarly, monthly groceries at a familiar store are places where you meet people who have become familiar just because they share with you a preference for a particular store.
Selling and buying activity, in a way, satisfies a perennial need for human connection and thus can dispel a sense of isolation.
Boosts Self Confidence
Getting a new wardrobe can give your confidence a boost. Studies show that the way you dress can impact how you interact with the world. Dressing well can affect your ‘cognitive processes’ meaning if your brain associates a particular style or brand with certain types of personalities, you are likely to take on those attributes. ‘Enclothed cognition’ is the reason why brands link their names with glamorous personalities.
But it’s not just big brands. Anything that aligns with your deeper needs can make you happy. Researches show that buying products that meet our psychological needs is as important for our well-being as the other essentials like the right job, neighborhood or partner.
Splurging on yourself makes you feel good about yourself and different things work for different people. A bouquet of fresh flowers, say, could work for me, a new outfit could give your mood a boost, and getting a new pair of shoes could make someone else happy.
However, it is important to remain in control. Too much of it and going beyond your budget can lead to feelings of guilt, boredom or simply depression. To buy something just for the sake of buying will not lead to positive feelings of well being. As in everything else, there can be too much of a good thing.
So go ahead, treat yourself! But don’t go down the shopaholic route.