Can Retail Therapy Relieve Us?

The swipe of a credit card is enough to send shoppers into a certain pleasurable frenzy. Some consumers may strive to achieve satisfaction in life by continuously filling their closets with designer clothing.

The urge for shopping depends on the individual; some truly despise the act while others literally can’t get enough. It can get to the point where some are even addicted.

The culture of retail addiction is exemplified in the book, Confessions of a Shopaholic, and its movie adaptation in which the main character causes herself to drown in debt. The film is a classic that displays the edge of addiction given to compulsive shoppers to the point where the main character must even report to shopaholic anonymous meetings.

Though the fictional shopaholic may seem like an archetype, in real life, shopping can become a serious problem for individuals of all ages. The protagonist is a young adult relatable to today’s generation, and her actions are reflective of serious problems many face with money management.

However, if money became more readily available and accessible to those with a (serious) shopping problem, would we be able to conclude that cash can in fact buy happiness?

While studies show that happiness does not necessarily increase as income increases, some may beg to differ that the acquisition and ownership of tangible material items may do the trick. Around 52 percent of men and women admitted to taking part in using retail therapy when they’ve felt a little down in the dumps, according to a survey conducted by TNS Global. Maybe it isn’t so much a tactic used for pleasurable purposes, but a method used when experiencing distress to lift their moods.

Professor of psychology, Dr. Tim Kasser, spoke with BTR about retail therapy and the pleasurable sensation shoppers may feel after partaking in a consumeristic action.

“Everything we know about people that consume at really high levels, is that they consume out of the sense of insecurity, or threat, or trying to fill up an emptiness,” he claims.

Kasser perceives retail therapy as a temporary solve, akin to getting drunk or having a one-night stand.

“It’s a good distraction at some level,” he tells BTR, “but it’s also a costly distraction.”

Perhaps a more accurate assessment of the phrase “money can buy happiness” could be translated to something along the lines of “buying relief from low mood”–due to the fact that purchases will not make a person happier in the long run. At the end of the day, shoppers are still subject to negative or regretful feelings arising when they go to check their credit card or bank statements. Realizing the immense reductions, they probably won’t be thinking about how happy that new leather wallet made them feel upon purchase.

“One of the things we know is that feelings of threat and insecurity are likely to shift people towards materialistic values,” explains Kasser.

Such tendencies are tied with the everlasting reoccurrence of consumerism, which influences us to feel that we do not want to fit in–but that we need to fit in. Younger generations are much more susceptible than their elders, he states.

Photo courtesy of frankieleon.

The never-ending road to the desire of belonging influences consumerism. It allows for people to acquire a surplus of goods that are seen to symbolize this comfort.

Expanding on the concerning problems facing the younger generation, Kasser elaborates on how today’s teens have grown up their whole lives being surrounded by so many highly consumeristic messages.

“Young people today are more likely to endorse materialistic consumeristic values at higher levels than people did over the last 30 or 40 years,” he assesses.

An observer only needs to look around to see how fashion trends become what they are. People are buying the same products and clothing to fit in with the rest of society and gain some kind of social acceptability by wearing a certain shoe brand, Kasser argues.

To hear some more personalized perspective from other end of the spectrum, BTR spoke with Fatima Kadi, an avid shopper and common retail therapy practitioner, about how making these purchases works as an outlet for her to relieve stress. As an extremely busy CEO, Kadi enjoys a pleasant session of shopping after work or whenever she has time to slip away. She claims that her habit does, in fact, make her happy.

Kadi references her mandatory conference trips to Las Vegas in which she is always less than thrilled to be attending.

“I think that it’s only fair that I treat myself to a bag of my preference,” she says, “that of which I wouldn’t buy consciously when I’m at home because I would feel guilty.”

Kadi explains to BTR that purchasing items is a method to distract her from her duties and the woes of undesired conference trips.

“From a therapeutic standpoint it helps me cope with the fact that I’m in Las Vegas, Sin City, a place that I do not choose to be in,” she states.

She explains how she would very much rather indulge in acquiring material possessions rather than engaging in alternative hedonistic activities like drinking or gambling that tourists typically perform during their time in Vegas. Having a new item to physically walk away with brings her pleasure.

“Therefore it is a better coping mechanism for me to buy something like a bag that I wouldn’t otherwise,” Kadi reasons.

While it is great that retail therapy can work to enhance the moods and benefit some people, the debate about the correlation between true happiness and retail therapy is not universal. Nevertheless, it seems that consumerism, no matter how people feel about it as a cultural phenomenon or personal practice, will continue to prevail in the current economy.

Featured image courtesy of Roderick Eime.