Beyond Materialism: The Psychological Motivations Behind Retail Therapy

Beyond Materialism

Most people can understand the happiness that comes from purchasing something for oneself when we talk about needing some retail therapy. Can shopping truly improve our mood? Clinical psychologist Scott Bea, PsyD, affirms that shopping can have psychological and therapeutic benefits as long as it is done in moderation, according to research. Engaging in shopping activities, whether online or in person, can provide a psychological and emotional boost. Even just browsing can bring happiness, but it’s important to be mindful of your spending habits. Dr. Bea outlines various explanations for the phenomenon.

Shopping helps to regain a feeling of power or authority

Research demonstrates that engaging in shopping activities can help individuals feel more in control of their surroundings and alleviate feelings of sadness. A study from 2014 in the Journal of Consumer Psychology discovered that engaging in retail therapy can bring immediate happiness and also help alleviate long-lasting sadness. The study suggests that sadness is often linked to feeling like external factors control our lives, rather than us being in control.

Shopping can help restore a sense of personal autonomy and control, even when we are still feeling sad. A 2014 study from the University of Michigan found that buying items you like can provide a greater sense of control compared to not shopping, with up to a 40 times stronger effect. The study also showed that those who made purchases were three times less sad than those who just looked at items. Dr. Bea explains that when you are feeling discouraged, achieving exactly what you desire can feel like a personal success.

Visualizing helps us to avoid worrying.

Visualization helps to take our mind off anxiety while shopping also engages our senses. When we encounter new things and visually appealing displays, it can transport us to a different world, even if just temporarily. This also applies to online shopping, where well-presented products can spark our imagination and make us envision ourselves in ideal settings. Engaging in shopping and the sensory experience it provides can help us imagine positive results. Athletes have also discovered that visualization can lead to positive expectations and lower anxiety levels.

Online shopping helps mood because it releases dopamine even before a purchase is made.

Dopamine is released in the brain even before a purchase is made. Simply browsing, scrolling, or window shopping can improve mood because of the anticipation of a reward, which triggers the release of dopamine. Dopamine boosts your motivation to pursue activities that bring pleasure, such as retail therapy. Dopamine is not only released when you receive a reward or buy something but also when you are contemplating all the potential options and enjoying the entire shopping experience. It is about the entire process, not just the result.

Online shopping can improve mood, with the release of dopamine during the shopping process can lead to feelings of satisfaction even before completing a purchase. This can be seen when a shopper adds items to their cart but ultimately decides not to buy anything because they already feel content. You can feel joy without buying something because the mental journey can be exciting on its own. It is not risky and may even be more satisfying to spend less money. Online shopping can lead to dopamine release through the anticipation of waiting for a package to arrive, especially in cases where the contents are unknown, increasing excitement and anticipation.

The mental health benefits of saving money

There is an alternative path to think about if you enjoy retail therapy. If you save for that reward instead of impulsively using a credit card, it can also be psychologically healing. By using the theory of anticipation, you can build up anticipation for your reward, which eventually releases dopamine and causes feelings of excitement.

When buying starts to cause issues

Shopping can become a problem for some individuals, leading to addiction in extreme cases. It is important to be mindful of excessive shopping habits. Shopping can become a problematic compulsive behaviour when it is used as a coping mechanism for anxiety, stress, or loss and becomes difficult to control. Shopping addiction, also known as oniomania or compulsive buying disorder, affects approximately 5% of American consumers and has been increasing in developed countries with the rise of online shopping.

Compulsive shoppers often experience frequent episodes of buying or strong urges to make purchases, which are driven by feelings of worthlessness and a sense of powerlessness. This condition shares similarities with other impulse control disorders such as sex addiction and gambling addiction. Compulsive shopping urges are comparable to the cravings experienced in drug or alcohol addiction. Additionally, compulsive shoppers may have blackout episodes where they do not remember making purchases, similar to alcohol-induced blackouts.

Signs of being addicted to shopping and how you can be balanced in your takes of retail therapy

 Be careful if you feel like your spending is getting out of control. Signs of compulsive shopping include:

  • Obsessing over purchasing unnecessary items and struggling to control the urge to buy.
  • Spending excessive time researching potential purchases
  • Facing financial challenges due to uncontrolled shopping habits.

Experiencing difficulties in various areas of life as a result of excessive spending. Seeking therapy, support groups, and education can be beneficial for individuals who believe they may have a shopping addiction issue. Understanding the root causes of shopaholic behaviour is key to addressing the issue, rather than simply cutting up credit cards. Therapy that explores these underlying causes is recommended for those struggling with compulsive shopping. In essence, engaging in exciting behaviours can lead to happiness, but it is important to practice moderation to avoid becoming compulsive. Changing your focus from controlling compulsive shopping to enjoying a new, positive behaviour such as exercising or eating healthily. Working towards these goals can bring happiness and fulfilment.

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