Shopping As Therapy: Good Health Comes In Small Packages

"Certainly, we're all aware of how shopping means different things to different people at different times," writes author Paco Underhill in his book, Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping.

Underhill is a unique researcher who, for almost 20 years, has used the tools of the anthropologist to study people in retail environments. "We use shopping as therapy, reward, bribery, pastime, as an excuse to get out of the house, as a way to troll for potential loved ones, as entertainment, as a form of education or even worship, as a way to kill time," he says. As Underhill's studies have made clear, shopping meets a variety of needs.

"I love to take my favorite catalogs, after they arrive in the mail, and curl up in bed for an hour or two before I go to sleep. I turn down pages with items I like on them, imagining what it would be like to own them," says one woman from Rochester, New York.

"Buying stuff for the grandchildren gives me a new lease on life," says a grandmother in Fairfax, Virginia.

"I remember going to the local variety store with my mom. She would buy stuff we didn't really need, little things...a little reward system against the annoyances/disturbances of life," recalls a keenly perceptive daughter.

Shopping Lifts Spirits

Whatever the motivator, shopping, in contrast to buying, lifts our spirits. It makes us feel better about ourselves and our place in the universe. It is a form of therapy. It is good to occasionally reward or affirm yourself with a purchase. Shopping is an easy way to assert self-worth, one of the simplest ways, says Judith Mueller, executive director of the internationally known resource, The Women's Center in Vienna, Virginia.

A classic example is the purchase of bath salts and perfumed oils, the ingredients of a personally pampering and perhaps luxurious spa experience. It takes some thought. It's affordable and there is an investment of time, Mueller explains. All the steps are important.