Buying happiness: Shoppers find comfort from retail therapy
Julia Weiskopf had just broken up with her boyfriend.
After a glass of wine, she reached for her handbag.
A little shopping was in order to take the edge off the pain -- in other words, retail therapy.
"I so believe in retail therapy," says the 27-year-old Weiskopf from Edgewood. "It definitely works. I think it fulfills a need, because when you have lost something or something bad has happened to you, what you buy fills that void. And then, when you wear the item it, makes you feel good to have something new."
Weiskopf is not unusual. Women often turn to clothing, shoes and jewelry -- and, sometimes, even baked goods and other commodities -- in times of turmoil, because it has a consoling effect, experts say.
"Even when good things happen to women, they want to go to the mall," says Dr. Paul Friday, chief of clinical psychology at UPMC Shadyside. "It's a genetic thing. I think they are hard-wired to be that way. They think if they gather more stuff, the pain will go away."
The concept of retail therapy is wonderful, Friday says. Women across the world use shopping as a way of calming themselves, because when you accumulate stuff, you feel secure, Friday says.
"Just make sure you keep it within parameters and boundaries," Friday says. "If you do it too much, it becomes pathological and can create more problems. Keep some kind of balance."
Finding that balance means not overspending on time, energy or money, says psychologist April Lane Benson, author of "To Buy or Not to Buy: Why We Over Shop and How to Stop" (Trumpeter Books, $16.95). Shopping can take your mind off something you are grappling with, but that's only temporary, because you need to get back to what you are avoiding. It can't be your go-to activity every time, she says.
Molly Robb Shimko of Latrobe agrees.
"Retail therapy includes window shopping and visiting shops to check out new arrivals," says Robb Shimko, browsing through Shadyside with her husband, Ken.
"Sometimes, it's fun and relaxing to just get out and interact with others in the retail setting. Shopping to brighten your mood is not a bad thing as long as you do not spend more than you can afford."
Shopping awakens your senses.
"My wife has more shoes than Imelda Marcos in all different colors and shapes," Friday says. "Women love to walk up and down the aisles and see all the new things. It is a sensual experience, because of all the colors and fabrics and textures."
Retail therapy is done by women of all ages and social status, experts say.
"Shopping is a way that we search for ourselves and our place in the world," Benson says. "You can never get enough of what you don't really need. What you might need is a hug rather than a velvet dress, so figure out what you really need before making that purchase."
Shopping has proved to be a nice diversion, says Beth Bowman of Hampton, especially when her mother was ill.
"My mother loved going to the mall, even after it got to the point to where she had to go in a wheelchair," Bowman says. "It helped get her mind off the cancer, and helped her feel part of the group. I think we all like to shop because of my mother's love for it and how good it can make you feel."
And you don't always have to buy anything, says her daughter, Kristy Bowman, a Pitt student.
"It is nice just to see nice, new things," she says. "It makes you smile, and it makes you happy."
Shopping is a way long-time best friends Amy Jinkner-Lloyd, a Greensburg native who lives in Atlanta, and Debbie Reese of Greensburg have gotten through tough times.
"I love to walk from store to store," Reese says. "The stores in Shadyside are interesting, the people are interesting, the atmosphere is interesting, and it allows you an opportunity to see what you can do when you look at how things are styled. Shopping is like an art where you can see new ways to style things while taking your mind off a difficult situation.
"If I am sad or depressed, I definitely go to the store," she says.
And its power is not restricted to women.
"The auto show is retail therapy for him," says Robb Shimko of her husband. "Just looking and browsing takes your mind away from your troubles. Even if it takes you away for a few minutes, it is worth it. You don't have to buy anything. You can just wish and that can be fun just for those few moments."
Shopping is an escape in life in times of stress, says James Roberts, professor of marketing at Baylor University in Waco, Texas and author of "Shiny Objects: Why We Spend Money We Don't Have in Search of Happiness We Can't Buy" (HarperCollins, $25.99).
"Sometimes when you look back at the item you bought, you find it is meaningless, but it accomplished what you needed at the time," Roberts says. "A lot of women will say shopping is less expensive than a therapist, and it is, if it is once in a while."
The main goal of retail therapy is mood repair, Roberts says.
"With shopping, sometimes, we just feel the need to do something, and shopping is socially acceptable and not something society looks down upon like drinking or drugs," Roberts says. "When we go shopping, there are the sales and the music and the bright colors in the store that is a fun and relaxing experience."
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