Retail Therapy: Myths vs. Facts
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We all do it: indulge in “comfort” purchases to remedy a bad day or sour mood. While the often short-lived euphoria resulting from this habit may lead to post-splurge guilt, new research suggests some surprising reasons why retail therapy can actually be good for you. Let’s put some old myths to rest.
Myth: Retail therapy is primarily a female stress reliever.
Fact: It’s no surprise that women like to shop, but more men really should consider making shopping a daily ritual. A study conducted by the British Medical Journal found that even a small amount of regular retail therapy helped people live longer – particularly older men. Researchers analyzed gender, ethnicity, education, financial and employment status, lifestyle factors, prevalence of chronic conditions, and, of course, shopping habits for 1,850 elderly (65+) people. They then tracked the lifespan of participants by linking their names to national death registration data from 1999 and 2008. The findings suggested that shopping benefited older men the most.
The study revealed that those who shopped more than once a week tended to drink and smoke more than the others. Despite those unhealthy lifestyle factors, the regular shoppers tended to live longer than those who didn’t shop as frequently. Male participants who shopped daily were 28 percent less likely to die prematurely, compared with female shoppers who were 23 percent less likely – which brings us to the next myth….
Myth: Retail therapy affects your health only temporarily.
Fact: The same British Medical Journal study shed some light on this. The researchers believe that the regular out-and-about exercise from shopping, combined with the social interaction with strangers or shopping companions may contribute to the health benefit derived from regular shopping. The life-prolonging effects didn’t come from the ‘temporary high’ of buying something, but rather the incidental exercise and companionship associated with shopping. Since older men are least likely to engage socially with others or exercise, this is probably why regular shopping would benefit their age group so much.
Myth: Retail therapy leads to meaningless impulse buys
Fact: A study conducted by Northwestern University examined the types of purchases student subjects made prior to taking an intelligence test. Students tended to opt for purchases that would help them feel better prepared for their upcoming test, such as a book or a nutritious beverage. They weren’t looking to purchase something frivolous just for the sake of buying something, but instead made pragmatic choices based on what they were hoping to achieve.
Myth: People engage in retail therapy after a stressful situation.
Fact: The Northwestern study also revealed that retail therapy prior to a stressful event is common because it can - in a sense – trick the brain into using shopping to become better prepared. Stressful events tended to motivate smart purchases intended to boost performance or reputation. For instance, before a big work project you may decide to go out and purchase new pens or fancy portfolio paper in an effort to enhance your work. This could make you more prepared for the task, or it can at least help ease the stress by making you feel more prepared.
[SLIDESHOW: Tips to Cope with Anxiety for an Upcoming Review
Myth: Retail therapy leads to depression and regret.
Fact: While this can’t be said for all therapeutic purchases (we’ve all experienced buyer’s remorse or lapses in financial judgment), retail therapy does trigger a reward mechanism in the brain that actually makes us happier. Soothing stress or a low mood with retail therapy is a lot like nursing a bad mood with comfort food; both send a surge of dopamine to the brain. A good example is the feeling of holiday cheer. One reason the holidays may feel joyous is a result of all the additional shopping, which turns into gift-giving and receiving.
[INFOGRAPHIC: The Dopamine Connection]
In general, retail therapy may not be as bad as you may have thought (overspending and shopping addiction being separate issues). If you’re trying to nurse a low mood or stressful time, remember that a daily or weekly shopping break could lift your spirits or help you prepare for your upcoming challenge. And it may even prolong your life. Shoppers rejoice!
[SLIDESHOW: 10 Ways to Escape a Low Mood]
Kopp, C. (11 0). Cbsnews.com. Retrieved from
British Medical Journal. (2011, April 6). "Regular Retail Therapy Prolongs Life." Medical News Today. Retrieved from
University of Chicago Press Journals (2012, June 19). Retail therapy: Shopping to cope with future challenges. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 2012 from