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Retail Therapy: Why Shopping Can Make You Feel Good

Have you ever noticed how making a purchase or doing a little window shopping when you are sad or stressed seems to improve your mood? If you answered “yes”, you may have experienced something called retail therapy.

What Is Retail Therapy?

Retail therapy is when you go shopping with the intent of making yourself feel better. Some people think this is nonsense, but studies show there may be psychological benefits to going shopping. In a 2011 study, 407 adults were examined using three different experiments.

The findings were:

  • Unplanned shopping helps to relieve bad moods.

  • Retail therapy usually does not involve negative effects, such as buyer’s remorse, guilt, anxiety, or other distress.

  • The good mood boost from retail therapy seems to last well past the purchase.

The research also found that most of the participants did not overspend and stayed well within their budgets.

Retail Therapy Helps You to Feel Empowered

When you feel sad, it is generally linked or associated to areas of your life you cannot control. Experts suggest that retail therapy counteracts feelings of sadness, stress, and anxiety by offering you a sense of control. When you have the option of making a purchase, or not, this helps you to feel more empowered.

But there is a caveat: Moderation is key. If you consistently shop to cope with stress, it can become a problem and prevent you from seeking help for what’s really bothering you.

In addition, if you spend more money than you have, you may end up with a significant amount of debt over time which can lead you to more distress.

It Can Bring You Happiness

Retail therapy can bring you happiness by releasing a hormone called dopamine in your brain. When you anticipate the possibility of a treat or a reward, this hormone is released and causes you to feel good. Sometimes you don’t even need to buy anything. Simply window shopping or browsing online will give you the same feel-good experience.

Other benefits include:

  • Distraction ~ Getting you away from whatever is causing you to feel sad.

  • Social interaction ~ Shopping takes you out of the house and around other people. Studies have shown that even people who shop alone felt connected to society and reaped the same healthy benefits.

  • Saving up is therapeutic ~ The act of saving up for an item gives you something to look forward to and releases dopamine over time.

Is Retail Therapy Compulsive Shopping?

Retail therapy and compulsive shopping disorder both involve shopping, but they are not the same thing. Unlike retail therapy, the pleasure associated with compulsive shopping usually does not last past the moment of purchase. You might also have feelings of regret or guilt after purchasing something you really didn’t want, and you may promise yourself to stop spending money only to find yourself doing it again.

Signs of Compulsive Shopping:

  • Buying things that you do not need

  • Inability to control your shopping

  • Feeling the need to hide purchases

  • Lying about the money you spent

  • Feeling the need to shop more over time

Just a note, you can sometimes overspend without being a compulsive shopper and you can also exhibit compulsive shopping traits without going into debt.

The key thing to remember when trying to determine if you are a compulsive shopper or not is how you feel afterwards and whether you can control the purchases you make.

What to Keep in Mind

There is no harm in using retail therapy to cope with sadness or stress from time to time. However, if you tend to go shopping after having a rough day, keeping these tips in mind will help you to have positive benefits from retail therapy without harmful effects.

Healthy Tips:

  • Stick to a budget

  • Shop for things you really need

  • Try window shopping first

  • Think before purchasing

  • Find other things to do, such as exercising or spending time in nature.

When to Seek Help

Although shopping can help you to feel better, it cannot help you to deal with more serious problems. Using shopping as a coping method, just like with anything else, usually makes things worse down the road.

Shopping may help you get through difficult situations, but it won’t provide you with lasting relief from any mental health concerns. To really relieve yourself of distress, you must get to the root of the problem causing it. A therapist or a professional may be able to help you with this.


In most cases, retail therapy is harmless and can help you to feel better if you do not overspend and make a constant habit of it. Remember, retail therapy is not real therapy.

Author Bio

Isabella Boston

Isabella Boston is a multi-talented writer and the Founder of Bella’s Attic Studio. She has several years of experience in content writing, copywriting, and social media strategies. She is the author of the romantic and rare memoir, Passion of Flames. Isabella is currently working to spread awareness on the dangers and inhumanity of human sex trafficking. She has special interests in fashion and beauty, health and wellness, and natural healing as it pertains to the body, mind and soul. When Isabella is not writing, she enjoys playing the violin, learning new languages (currently Italian), and reading books of substance.

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4. Rick, S. I., Pereira, B., & Burson, K. A. (2013, December 27). The benefits of retail therapy: Making purchase decisions reduces residual sadness. Journal of Consumer Psychology. Retrieved November 8, 2022, from

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