Who Knew? Retail Therapy Benefits

Finally! There’s an answer and justification for my full closet.  A group of researchers at the University of Michigan recently published their results from a study testing whether shopping can positively affect our mood.  This study explains why I have so many pairs of shoes and regularly buy more from my favorite on-line vendors.  The answer according to their research is simple – it makes me feel good.

The study’s title, The Benefits of Retail Therapy: Choosing to Buy Reduces Residual Sadness, conjures up all types of mental images for me.  This study is also getting a lot of press these days and I’ve read about it in a number of places recently, even though it is based on research from last year and the year before. Perhaps it is a scheme by retailers to get us out and shopping their over-stocked shelves and racks. I’m just kidding about that scheme idea, but I can see some savvy shopping place turning the idea into a marketing campaign – Buy our stuff and you will feel better.

The theory, in an abbreviated form, is feeling sad is caused primarily by feeling out of control; that lack of control could fit the situation of every last one of us living with MS and our caregivers, too.  They go on to prove that by shopping we gain a sense of being in control, which then elevates our mood.  When we shop we get to make the choice and it’s not forced upon us.  If the retailers are smart they will target us with MS as well as all the other people living with chronic disease.

Perhaps I should just trash the anti-depressants and head to the mall.  The study tells me that interacting with other people is a mood elevator and anyone living with a chronic disease will tell you we could use more moments of feeling up.  I can’t help but think of the mall during the holidays and that thought immediately brings me back down to reality.  The crowds, the rushing around, and often the added heat of wearing a winter coat in those stores with the crazy heat-producing halogen lights is almost always too much for my Multiple Sclerosis and wipes me out.  By the time I get the packages in the trunk of my car and get home, I am physically and financially drained.

The researchers considerately offer a look into alternative forms of shopping and look at the online phenomenon, too.  It appears that same euphoric feeling at the mall can be replicated at home with our computer and amazon.com.   This type of shopping is definitely more convenient and less taxing on my body – I don’t even have to get dressed and can go anywhere to shop in my nightgown.  I would want to add to their theory and consider that online shopping can create that boost in happiness not just once, but twice.  That package drop-off by the UPS driver or my postal worker always gets me excited and sometimes I get even more excited because I don’t remember what I ordered and the box contents are a surprise, so online shopping is like a buy one-get one free offer that I can’t resist.

Interestingly, the same study found that even though I might reduce my sadness by shopping, the anger I might be feeling is still there.  There’s plenty of anger in most of us with MS, and it is a disappointment that shopping doesn’t cure that problem. It could make me angry that it doesn’t stop anger, but what’s the point of that?

Unfortunately there is a down side of retail therapy that isn’t discussed in this study – that would be the financial cost of feeling better.  We might run our credit cards to their maximum spending limit and still not achieve a lasting sense of control. Living with MS is costly enough, so perhaps trying retail therapy is not such a good idea after all.

Wishing you well,

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The MultipleSclerosis.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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