How Therapeutic Is the Urge to Splurge

Last time I impulsively filled my online cart at an e-commerce site, I ended up buying only about four out of the twelve products that I had added. I came down to that number after looking at each of those twelve items and realizing that they have no use to me. I probably didn’t even need those four products that I bought, but I still spent my hard-earned income on them. And no, I’m not an impulsive shopper or even a shopper for that matter. Yet, I indulged in shopping just to replace a temporary negative emotion with the thrill and comfort of owning something material. And I might have done so without even realizing.

After a long and exhausting day at work, you probably allow yourself to chug down some spirit and treat yourself to junk eatables; you allow yourself to have one day without any limitations. Reason? You worked hard the entire week and needed to reward yourself; you’d dealt with enough stress and the turmoil could be glamorously concealed with a personal binge fest. That, ladies and gentlemen, is your indulgence in comfort food; very similar to how you would conceal your low mood with a heap of unrequired clothes. Retail therapy is called so for a reason; it heals, but then how therapeutic is this urge to splurge? And if therapeutic, how safe is it?

Given the fact that not all that makes you happy and covers up the pain is safe and suggested, every habit adapted only till a certain extent is a boon. Shopping out of sadness could be a source of temporary healing, but in the long run it’s a route to bankruptcy and an addiction. And similar to other addictions, this comes with risks too.

So what exactly happens here is, you feel the blues, you lack the mental energy to make an effort to eradicate the reason from its root, so you choose to go for the easier escape and solution. You distract your low temperament, you bribe your brain, and you comfort the frown with a bunch of possessions. Your state of sadness triggers feelings of helplessness and loss of control. And to gain that control back, you invest in a recreation activity that lets you have it back.

Shopping is all about your personal choice and preferences in general. Hence, when you shop as a remedy for your low state of mind, you retain back the feeling of control over your life and satisfaction for the time being.

It’s not exactly wrong, though. It’s definitely encouraged because in some way it’s a healthy way of channelizing negative emotions. It’s not at all harmful. Retail therapy is just one of the things you engage in to escape the modern monotony and chronic, inevitable stress that comes with it – a late dinner with family and friends, a weekend getaway, occasional parties, and any leisure activity that restores the thrill and liveliness back in your life. It is not necessarily unhealthy. It just gets unhealthy when you stop facing your thoughts and emotions and continue putting a lid on them with your shopping bags. Gradually, it turns into a habit, an addiction, and you start associating low mood with a swipe of your card.

Here is exactly how retail therapy works. You buy a pair of pants to counter an emotional misery. You feel better. The next morning when you wake, you feel the same stress and anxiety, which soon deviates again as soon as you see your new pants. However, days later when the pants aren’t new anymore and lose the ability to conceal those emotions, you are back at that stage where you, yet again, make another swipe and buy another piece. And there you go, piling up clothes over clothes over feelings that you should rather confront. This is what suggests toxicity and cons of your urge to splurge.

Shopping is quite a pleasing practice, boosts your confidence, adds zest to everyday monotony and of course, comforts the mood blues. But you know when to pull it back before it discreetly takes you to bankruptcy and a human brain full of unopened and discarded thoughts and feelings.


Photo by Matthew Henry from Burst

Source: Shilpa Madan – Consumer Psychologist, Marketeer, and Adjunct Post Doctoral Research Scholar at the Graduate School of Business, Columbia University, NY. 



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