A few weeks ago I was preparing for my first year PhD viva exam and I was terrified, anxious, nervous, depressed and generally feeling completely negative about my life and my ability to do what I needed to do. Among the many things I tried to cheer myself up during this time, I found that one of the best things I did was to go shopping. It was one of those days where I wasn’t really looking for anything, I just needed a day away from revision, but I came back from my trip with some new heels, a dress, a top, some jewellery, a designer purse and a BARGAIN bikini from Harvey Nichols (£18)! And you know what? I felt amazing! Truly uplifted and cheerful, feeling which lasted through the next week of using said purchases. This got me wondering, is there any truth in ‘retail therapy’ or is it just a phrase we use?
After a bit of research, it turns out YES! A study done in 2011 looked into the psychology behind ‘retail therapy’. The authors acknowledge that indulgent behaviour such as unplanned purchases made when feeling low can elevate mood but ask the deeper question of whether these feelings are short-lived and lead to feelings of guilt in the long-term.
The first study of shoppers in a shopping mall concluded that participants who reported a bad mood at the start of their trip were more likely to make impulse purchases as a ‘treat’ and those in a good mood did not, showing more self-control. This was backed up in a study of undergraduates who were offered chocolates in a lecture (wish I’d have done psychology!) and those in a bad mood consistently took more chocolates and ate them immediately, whereas those in a good mood took less or saved some for later on. So take note if you’re feeling grumpy and trying to watch your weight, I know I’m guilty of this!
A second study revealed that if a purchase was made with the aim of repairing bad mood, for ‘retail therapy’ then even months after the purchase it was unlikely to cause feelings of remorse or guilt. They conclude that retail therapy is part of a psychological process to repair mood and report that there are actually no negative psychological* effects associated with impulse buys. (*emphasis on psychological, your bank balance may disagree! Compulsive buying is a separate issue!)
So there you have it! Retail therapy has been scientifically proven to boost a bad mood! I’d love to know what you think, do you go shopping for a treat when the going gets tough?