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Retail Therapy


Techniques Happiness > Retail Therapy

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Go shopping. Take a friend or go alone, whatever suits you best. Go to a place where there are plenty of shops that sell things you like.

Take your time, browsing and talking about the products, comparing prices and value. Try on clothes. Try out gadgets. Pause, ponder and do not get taken in by the methods used by sales assistants who will hurry you up and try to apply all kinds psychological pressure. Just smile kindly at them and move on.

Do not think too much about buying anything, at least for a while, or at least buy something small. When you do make a purchase, check that you can return it for a refund.

If you feel like it, try negotiating a lower price or better overall deal. Always remember, however, that you can walk away at any time. Just apologize and say you are still not sure and want to go away and think.

If you really like something that is expensive, try thinking 'next time' or 'maybe it's cheaper online' or anything that will delay a purchase you might regret.

When you buy things, spend more on things for other people. Get clothes for your children, gifts for your partner and food for the family. If there are any charity collections going on, donate something.

Also when you spend, do so more on experiences than goods. Go to see a football match or sports meet. Go to see a play or a movie. Go parachuting or paintballing. Spend on things that are designed to be fun as you consume.

You can do a simpler version of the same thing online, jumping between websites, searching for products and comparing prices. Be careful about the credibility of websites, of course. And if you find something you like at a good price, do check in local stores first to see if you can help local retailers and get yourself a good bargain at the same time.


The important thing about retail therapy is not in the buying, although there is often a big buzz in the moment of purchase, but the process of looking. Like a treasure hunt, it is the journey not the destination that is most real fun.

Also like a treasure hunt, although there may be a big buzz when you find the treasure, this will not keep you happy for long. Materialism and owning things does not make people that happy. This is one reason why spending money on experiences can lead to greater happiness than buying material things.

Whilst other methods are better for longer-term happiness, researchers Selin Atalay and Margaret Meloy found that retail therapy can be effective for relieving low moods. They also found that there are few (if any) emotional side-effects.

Shopping with friends enhances the experience, turning what can be a lonely day into pleasant social time. You can stop for coffee, dress up and laugh together and generally have a good time. The shopping is then just a facilitation of friendship.

Do beware when shopping with friends of envy and a sense of obligation to buy just because they have bought or because they are encouraging you to spend.

You can shop online instead of going out if you wish, but still take your time and do note the difference in happiness that it gives. Online purchase is less social and can be over quickly. The ideal of retail therapy is to spend a long time spending only a little so you effectively get good value when you 'buy' happiness.

People who are materialists spend about three times as much on themselves as other people. However, it has been found that those who spend on others are much happier. Low self-esteem is a key driver of materialism, so if you feel bad about yourself, perhaps you should try some of the others methods to feel good.

See also

Social Networking, Sales


Atalay, A., and Meloy, M. (2011). Retail therapy: A strategic effort to improve mood. Psychology and Marketing, 28, 6, 638-659

Dunn, E.W., Aknin, L., & Norton, M. I. (2008). Spending money on others promotes happiness. Science, 319, 1687-1688


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