Thursday, June 12, 2008

Retail Therapy – The Cost of a Funk

Yesterday I was in a funk.

I thought I’d walk it off. I believe in the power of body over mind – get the blood moving, get the endorphins flowing and the clouds will part.

I thought I’d commune with nature. I believe that staring at a tree can go a long way towards dissolving homicidal tendencies.

I walked from Cambridge to Beacon Hill, through the Boston Gardens where I sat and stared at trees. It didn’t work. The world was still clouds and daggers.

So I did the only other thing I could think of to do (though it was less a thought out plan and more like a response to a nic fit). I shopped.

I bought things I couldn’t afford which amounted to blush, eye shadow, a dress, a skirt, a pair of pants and a pedicure. I don’t want to look up the prices and do the addition because that’ll put me in a different kind of funk and the process will start all over again. But it did get me wondering – is there a mathematical formula for the ratio between $ spent or number of items bought and happy brain chemistry? It can’t be a linear relationship where the more money you spend the happier you get because if we take that premise to its logical conclusion then going broke would be bliss. I’ve been there. It’s not.

Or is the shopping - happiness formula not about the monetary value of the purchases but rather about the number of items bought – the consumption? I have no desire to eat when I’m unhappy, but acquiring new items is somehow satisfying. Would acquiring key chains or pencil sharpeners or those brightly colored plastic paper clips have the same effect as the pricier blush, eye shadow, skirt, dress, pants and pedicure? And is there some critical number of items which once reached brings on the brain alteration process? If so, what's that magic number. 3? 24? Is it different for each person or does it depend on the particular cause of the funk? 3 items for a fight with your boss. 8 for an argument with sis. 32 when the boyfriend pisses you off?

Does the improved post-spree mood have to do with newness in general? If I went to a gallery and looked at paintings I couldn’t buy but were new to me, would that work? Or is it just the distraction of shopping – getting your mind off whatever is that put you in the funk to begin with?

Or is it just a simple psychological formula – damage to sense of self is immediately (if temporarily) repaired with material items that help reconstruct outer image of said self. Plug up the holes with some fruity gum and buy yourself some time to work on the real repairs.

I don’t know the answers to any of these questions but I sure am glad I kept my receipts.


kspace said...

I recently interviewed a researcher in emotion and decision making who told me that anti-depressants are now commonly (?) used to treat compulsive shopping.

I'm not sure what that means. Maybe that drugs, not clothes, are the answer? Sweet.

Courtney said...

Great post! I am totally a mood shopper, I inherited this from my mother. I think the key is that the items somehow affirm your identity/specialness. Key chains and pencil sharpeners don't do that (for me anyway) the same way that clothes, makeup, etc. do.