What a rush it can be to “treat” yourself when you’ve been feeling blue! A new outfit, the latest computing gadget, something for the house, and voila, your cares blow away like dust on the carefree wind.
Science shows that indulging the urge to “shop ‘til you drop” does lift one’s spirits. Just the anticipation of acquiring something new triggers the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that controls our brains’ pleasure and reward centers.
Why does “retail therapy” work as it does? Theories abound:
- It helps us transition. “Suddenly singles” can surely appreciate the “out with the old; in with the new” attitude that can spur, or justify, purchases of clothes, home furnishings, and other items that we may not really need.
- It boosts confidence. Who doesn’t feel better wearing a new outfit?
- It provides an escape. Shopping takes us out of our problems for a while, at least, and gives us something to look forward to—purchasing, and then using, our acquisitions.
- It makes us feel useful. Humans are wired to provide for their home and family, and to take care of themselves.
- It connects us with others. Shopping puts us in proximity to friends, neighbors, and others in the stores and malls, and on the sidewalks.
But as so often happens with “instant gratification” activities, retail therapy demands more than just the price at the register. The surge of good feelings quickly ends once we’ve attained our desired object and receive the bill. Realizing what we could have done with that money, instead, may mire us in regret—making us feel worse than before.
The fact is, when we are on our own, the responsibility to take care of ourselves rests solely on our shoulders. We must think not only about the present, but about the future, as well. The good news is, money can be our ally—if we use it wisely.
So—how to achieve that feel-good “rush” without sabotaging your future? Here are some tips:
- Take a list. Write down the things you really do need, and shop for those items only. Dopamine will still flood your brain as you shop, but you’re less likely to regret your “spree” later.
- Pay with cash. This imposes limits on your spending, so you won’t have to deprive yourself of something else later. Also, you won’t have to suffer the hangover of a credit-card bill later.
- Shop your own closet. This costs nothing, but can be just as rewarding. Maybe you’ll find that dress you haven’t worn in so long, you’d forgotten it. Put it on, and it may even feel like you’re wearing something new. Anything you don’t want, you can give away—providing a dopamine hit, helping your community, and even providing you with a deduction at tax time.
We all get the blues from time to time. There’s nothing wrong with wanting the “quick fix” a shopping spree can provide. Engaged in consciously, and with the goal of true self-care, retail therapy can be provide a much-needed boost during a difficult time. Rather than sabotage your financial future, consider shopping in a way that actually enhances it. You are worth it!