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 purchases 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. 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 event caused 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 options 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..
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 happiness Spending 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 happiness Very 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.
Looks like this self-indulgent shopping spree didn't cure Kelly Osborne's blues.