Retail therapy sometimes gets a bad rap as being a superficial indulgence or a way to avoid reality. But let’s set the record straight. There are many reasons we shop, and with the exception of “feeding a shopping addiction,” a lot of them are downright healthy ones.

For starters, according to Dr. Jenny Brockis, who writes about high performance thinking, shopping actually gives us a sense of control in our lives. That’s because there is a lot of decision-making involved before we plunk down that credit card. We have to go through a mental checklist of our needs, our desires, and our relationship with money. We have to consider how we look, how we feel about how we look, and we have (hopefully) done a mental scan of our wardrobe to determine how the new item will fit in. So by the time we finally make the decision to buy something, we feel a sense of empowerment and self-determination. And, Dr. Brockis says, because of the mental prep work required, actually buying something is far more self-empowering than merely window shopping.

Shopping also helps stimulation our imagination: “Who will I be when I wear this? How will others see me?” In that way it feeds into our need to be liked and appreciated. But it also helps us visualize the life we want to live. Every athlete knows that visualization is a key part of any successful performance. And now, many life coaches use this same principle. The “Dress for Your Future Self” process helps their clients move from where they are to where they want to be in a few years. So a new dress or accessory just might be the external thing that gives you the courage and motivation to take the next step in your career or in your life.

New clothing is not only empowering, but it can help reduce anxiety in situations ripe with anxiety. When we know we look good, a job interview, first date, or public presentation just becomes easier. But retail therapy can be more than just a tool for self-esteem. Science Digest described results of a study showing that when college students put on a lab coat they were told belonged to a doctor, they were actually better able to focus and to keep their attention on the material they were learning for longer periods of time.

Sometimes shopping motivates us to take better care of ourselves (once the shock of seeing ourselves squirming to get into a too-tight garment wears off.) We might decide to eat a more healthy diet, spend a little more time at the gym or the yoga studio, or just to put a little more time and effort into our overall appearance. (Yes, buying something too small is a trap, but that’s different than being inspired to lose weight in order to buy something.)

Finally, shopping just fulfills a pretty fundamental human need to have what we want. It can bring us a momentary pleasure or contribute to deeper satisfaction. Either way, it’s not a bad thing. Speaking of needs, there’s a little genetic clue about why women love to shop. It’s been hardwired into our brains since our cave-dwelling days. Put simply: men were mostly the hunters, and women were mostly the gatherers. While the guys were bringing down a boar or venison, women were foraging to find the most delicious berries and edible greens. And, they did it in groups. Even today, our version of gathering – shopping – often is a social activity that satisfies our need for connection with our friends. Even when we shop alone we sense that we’re part of a community engaging in a like-minded quest. You can’t eat a new dress or handbag. But a new dress or handbag can be…pretty delicious.

Enjoy your retail therapy!

SHOP