Shopping Therapy

As a mental vacation

Why does this guilty pleasure feel so uplifting? Like changing the skin or getting a fresh start, a new life’s chapter?



The next time someone gets on your case for shopping tell them it’s good for your health. And theirs too. It’s scientific fact; experts have identified a handful of reasons plus one—shopping inspires longevity: 1) whether in store or online, it gives us a mini mental vacation; 2) it makes life changes more bearable; 3) it’s aspirational; 4) it can increase mental performance; 5) it offers many people a social life; and finally 6) it’s self- or me-care.

Social scientists interviewing hundreds of US mall shoppers report in the Journal of Psychology and Marketing that 62% purchased something to cheer themselves up and 28% as celebration. “Retail purchases can be helpful if the product inspires self confidence and a sense of mastery,” Sara Levin, a psychologist specializing in child development, tells the media.

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Online shopping has become the equivalent of a mini mental vacation, a way to let down. Sometimes when life throws difficult decisions our way, browsing by foot or online can facilitate the unconscious to come to the correct choice.

After divorce, a spouse in a loveless marriage without much intimacy, might buy all new bedroom furniture that she always wanted to signify change and aspirations. There could be sexy psychology behind the new bedding—out with the old and in with the new.

Suppose you’ve just been fired from your job (and who hasn’t?)—go out and buy a brand new pair of shoes or suit. That sends a positive message— one that sets yourself on track to a better position. The waist in the pants could be just a little tight motivating you to lose that last 10 pounds.

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Clothes don’t make the person? The Journal of experimental Social Psychology reports that people given a white doctor’s coat performed better on attention/concentration tests than ones in regular duds.

Shopping is one way to stay connected. You get to know clerks and they get to know you, your taste and preferences, style and sense of fashion as it is healthy to be recognized and not always be the stranger in a strange society. Like a favorite football club for men, Prada can make instant connection between fanatics of true beauty even if you are there just to admire and touch the last collection.

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Me is the earliest self-identification a person has after separating from the mother and sometimes it pays to go back to the id. When things get crazy on the homefront, attacking the racks can be a pure pleasure. It’s total “me time” and forget about we for a little while. You can come home completely purged of the crazies.

Atalay, A, Meloy, M. (2011). Retail therapy: A strategic effort to improve mood. Psychology and Marketing, 28 (6), 638-659 DOI: 10.1002/Mar.20404 Yarrow, K. Is Retail Therapy for Real? 5 Ways Shopping Is Actually Good for You. Time, April 16, 2013
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