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  • Alison Park, AAHS

Retail Therapy: Can You Buy Happiness?

The satisfaction that comes with clicking the “confirm purchase” button, or walking out of a store with a bag, is universally understood. Retail therapy, the act of buying things to make one feel better, is commonly used to improve mood. On the flip side, retail therapy can become dangerous if used to a certain extent. However, given there is science to support the idea of retail therapy, does this disprove the age-old belief that happiness can not be bought?

Firstly, what causes the initial exciting sensation that comes with shopping? When a person anticipates a reward, such as an object they want to buy, their brain releases a hormone called dopamine. Dopamine makes someone feel good and wants to repeat the behavior they associate with the reward. Considering how shopping is full of this anticipation, it is no surprise that one receives a mood boost from it. When someone shops, they expect pleasure from the items they buy, which releases dopamine, causing them to feel the satisfaction associated with shopping.

Even though dopamine only causes short-lived happiness, shopping can make someone feel better even after the purchase is made. This is because of the fact that most sadness is caused by the feeling that one does not have control over their life, and shopping restores a sense of control. While shopping, people make deliberate decisions over what to and not to buy. These decisions are empowering and therefore make people feel they have control over their lives.

Retail therapy initially increases happiness because of the dopamine release from anticipating a purchase and sustains this happiness due to the sense of control felt after making deliberate choices. However, like many things in life, retail therapy can prove harmful when used in excess. When retail therapy is used as a go-to way of overcoming sadness, it can lead to compulsive shopping disorder (CBD), which is when someone spends an excessive amount of time spending money and buying things they don’t need or truly want, only to feel negative emotions such as guilt and regret after making the purchase. CBD often causes distress due to the financial risk directly involved with it. This demonstrates how retail therapy, while effective in situational cases, can not be used as a real way to feel happy.

Overall, there is no direct answer to whether or not one can buy happiness. On one hand, buying material objects does make someone happy instantaneously and can even provide feelings of control, which the lack of is usually associated with sadness. But on the other hand, buying objects constantly and compulsively is linked to feeling guilty and regretful following the initial dopamine surge that comes with shopping. Therefore, the answer to if happiness can be bought remains unclear, as buying things can give someone a certain level of happiness but not enough to make them live a happy life.

Works Cited:

Chung, Minkyung. “What is Retail Therapy and Is It an Unhealthy Coping Mechanism?”, Talkspace, 20 November, 2020.

Tan, Sharlene. “Is Retail Therapy for Real?”, Web

MD, 10 September, 2021.,What%20Is%20Retail%20Therapy%3F,a%20purchase%20to%20celebrate%20something.

Raypole, Crystal. “Retail Therapy: Bad Habit or

Mood Booster?”, Healthline, 15 January, 2020.

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