Whether overworked, anxious, or just plain stressed, the credit card can be a quick pick-me-up for some. But while most can’t simply buy the answers to life’s big problems, recent studies suggest shopping can be an effective mood booster, especially when the money goes toward experiences or other people The+Relative+Relativity+of+Material+and+Experiential+Purchases.+Carter,+T.J.,+Gilovich,+T.+Department+of+Psychology,+Cornell+University,+Ithaca,+NY.+Journal+of+Personality+and+Social+Psychology.+2010+Jan;+98(1):+146-59..

Paper, Plastic, Or PayPal? — Why It Matters

In one recent study, researchers found that shoppers who entered a mall in a bad mood reported feeling significantly happier after treating themselves to a few purchases, even if unplanned. Feelings of regret thought to be associated with mood-motivated buys were generally absent, suggesting enjoyment from purchases outweighed any buyer’s guilt. Of course, that’s not to say those joyful feelings will make up for a lack of closet space.

Other studies support the connection between buying and improved mood, though the link was strongest when people spent on experience-based rather than material purchasesThe+Relative+Relativity+of+Material+and+Experiential+Purchases.+Carter,+T.J.,+Gilovich,+T.+Department+of+Psychology,+Cornell+University,+Ithaca,+NY.+Journal+of+Personality+and+Social+Psychology.+2010+Jan;+98(1):+146-59.Stigmatizing+Materialism:+on+stereotypes+and+impressions+of+materialistic+and+experiential+pursuits.+Van+Boven,+L.,+Campbell,+M.C.,+Gilovich,+T.+Department+of+Psychology,+University+of+Colorado+at+Boulter,+Boulder,+CO.+Personality+and+Social+Psychology+Bulletin.+2010+Apr;+36(4):+551-63.. Spending money on a trip or eventcaused greater satisfaction than that gained by buying an object (and unlike iPods, memories tend to survive a trip through the washer). Experiential purchases also incited less buyer’s remorse over unexplored buying optionsThe+Relative+Relativity+of+Material+and+Experiential+Purchases.+Carter,+T.J.,+Gilovich,+T.+Department+of+Psychology,+Cornell+University,+Ithaca,+NY.+Journal+of+Personality+and+Social+Psychology.+2010+Jan;+98(1):+146-59..

A correlation might also exist between shopping and longevity. A recent study looking at over 1,000 elderly Taiwanese and their buying habits found those who shopped more were less likely to die during the period of observation. However, the researchers acknowledge participants who shopped more tended to be younger and more fit, suggesting extra longevity might have more to do with getting out and staying active than the act of buying itself. Either way, a shop-happy grandparent probably means fewer homemade sweaters for the holidays.

Give It Away Now — The Answer/Debate

Though both physical and experience-based buys can help improve mood, spending money on others may have a greater impact on overall happinessSpending+Money+on+others+promotes+happiness.+Dunn,+E.W.,+Aknin,+L.B.,+Norton,+M.I.+Department+of+Psychology,+Univesrity+of+British+Columbia,+Vancouver.+Science.+2008+Mar+21;+319(5870):+1687-8.. Buying for others strengthens social relationships, fostering feelings of connectedness that can increase personal happinessVery+happy+people.Diener,+E.,+Seligman,+M.E.+Department+of+Psychology,+University+of+Illinois,+Champlain,+Illinois.+Psychological+Science.+2002+Jan;+13(1):+81.

So while that self-indulgent splurge won’t fix underlying causes of stress, it’s the selfless purchases that will likely provide the most long-term satisfaction. Plus, there’s always the chance that lucky someone will reciprocate, increasing everyone’s happiness (and cool gadget collections) in the process.

Certainty Level

Looks like this self-indulgent shopping spree didn’t cure Kelly Osborne’s blues.