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Life by Design


Shop Happy

Posted by Carren |

I know I've been there, when something pretty somehow just makes your day. It's a great temporary relief, but understanding what's behind this strange occurrence can save your pocket a little pain in the future.
Text by: Carren Jao
Published: MEGA May 2009

Looking into the sweet pleasure of shopping

I WAS entangled in a morass of pessimistic thoughts while absentmindedly glancing at window displays. Suddenly, its sensual silhouette caught my eye. “Sexy heels,” my thoughts tumbled out of its depressing stupor, “just what I need to go with my favorite pair of dark jeans.” All the reasons to buy flashed before my eyes: its neutral white pearlized skin would go well with anything; its heel, slimming down to a slender point, were perfect in its simplicity; and its peep-toe design was charming in its modesty.

I valiantly strode past and browsed at other displays, but I couldn’t shake the image of my feet slipping into those pair of shoes. Like Cinderella finally meeting her Prince Charming, I was a goner. I walked inside the store happily sold on those shoes, even before I entered. Half and hour later, shopping bag in hand and smile upon my face, I proclaimed, “Today wasn’t such a bad day after all.”

Playing doctor

This is only one of the many instances I inadvertently became my own doctor, medicating myself with retail therapy. Nicole Diaz, sales manager for a multi-national company shares her own experience. “Shopping makes [me] feel happy, because [I] see nice things… na nakaka-aliw. It’s also fun to try on new fashion, just to see how it looks... And if [I] do make a purchase, it feels even better because [I] found what [I] wanted at a price [I was] willing to pay,” momentarily quoting her college Economics professor. Stella Tan, project officer for a cultural office concurs. “The sense of acquiring something that makes you look good or that you simply want is great.”

There are many other reasons women shop. Kim Santos, brand manager for a leading skin care company reveals, “I shop more on a need basis now…but it’s also a nice way to bond with friends.” A phenomenon Paco Underhill, author of the book Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping, emphasizes. “The reason why we shop stems from a basic social need; part of the process is not just acquiring goods.”

Kim adds, “[I shop as a] treat to myself after a hard or bad day at work. I find myself buying stuff I regret, but I feel the need to burn some cash para naman I feel all the crap is worth it.” It turns out, I was not only one to understand the positive effects of a stroll in the mall, and it is only now that science is catching up to feminine instinct.

Explaining shopping bliss
According to Dr. David Sulzer, associate professor at Columbia University Medical Center, whenever we go shopping, our brain releases dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with reward and learning, to different parts of our brain. Depending on our brain’s chemical balance, we make the decision to purchase something.

He explains, “[Dopamine] is turned on not only when there is pleasure and decision making, but when there is something novel, unexpected, or intermittent. So, if you’re going into a department store and you find a sale, or you’re trying on clothes and you’re getting surprises, this is exactly the sort of situation you expect there to be a lot of dopamine release.” Interestingly, he adds that even just window-shopping can lead to dopamine release, as long as “it’s reinforcing and it’s a surprise.”

Though shopping can save an impossibly black day, it also hides a darker side. Dopamine is the same neurotransmitter associated with addiction and what once was a pastime can become a compulsion. Termed oniomania, a combination of the Greek words “for sale” and “insanity,” shopaholism links sadness and spending. Dr. Carole Lieberman, the psychiatrist who wrote the Britannica Encyclopedia entry on the disorder, says, "People who are sad, miserable or depressed usually feel an emptiness inside, so they engage in behaviors that fill up this emptiness, such as eating too much, drinking too much or spending too much." This could lead to debilitating debt and an endless cycle of craving.

Staying sane
While I can happily pass claim on that particular disorder, I still fall prey to my dopamine-addled brain, purchasing comfort buys I regret only minutes later. To this day, I still remember those blue-purple platform shoes and wonder, “What got into me?” Stella relates, “[There are] times, [when shopping is] not so good, since afterwards, I wonder if I spent too much, or if I should have bought it or not in the first place.”

Nicole adds, “Shopping makes me heart happy…But sometimes, especially [like] what happened to me [during] the holidays, it [dawns] on me a bit too late that I’ve spent so much... and so I’m now poor. Heart happy, wallet sad.”

Seasonal sales, especially ones triggered by large, come-hither signs, make it difficult to keep our wits about us, but thankfully Dr. Ruth Engs, an Indiana University professor who researched on shopping addiction gives a few tips. She suggests: making a shopping list and sticking to it to avoid impulse buys; using cash or debit cards to instill financial limits and curb shopping excitement, and window shopping after the stores have closed or when you’ve left your wallet at home.

Amanda Ford, author of Retail Therapy: Life Lessons Learned While Shopping, offers additional ways to control our spending habits. She writes, “I found the best thing to do when making any decisions, big or small, is to slow down.” She suggests: thinking over a purchase and coming back to it, having a friend available for a should-I-buy-it consultation, and thoroughly shopping around for the best value before buying.

For whatever reason we find ourselves on the prowl for a pretty bauble, we should bear in Amanda’s wise words on the subject, “Frosting is meant to make what is already delicious and carefully prepared look finished and taste a little sweeter. In the same way, shopping is just polish. It’s the final touch-up on your prudently taken-care-of mind, body, and soul.” And, there can be no better deal than that.
Names have been modified by request of interviewees.


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