The Empty Antidote: Retail Therapy

Retail therapy. It’s a funny little term I’m sure you’ve heard before that describes the practice of shopping to make yourself feel better. It seems to me that retail therapy is often practiced in response to stress or some other frustrating circumstance. I also sense that it’s becoming increasingly popular within our culture. But I have to ask, is shopping really therapeutic? And, if it is, will retail therapy ultimately cure the woes it promises to alleviate?

Shopping Bag

I remember back to the time I had just graduate college and was out living on my own and working my first real job. It was a novel stage of life for the first month or two, but after a while I found myself unhappy and alone. I was living in a town where I really only had relationships with a few of my coworkers so I didn’t have much to do in the evenings. After I was done working out, I had 4 or 5 hours to burn before heading to bed, so I found myself in the habit of going out to the strip mall on a regular basis at night. The stores weren’t anything overly special; just a few of the run of the mill chains like Kohl’s, Bed, Bath, and Beyond, and T.J. Maxx. I would buy a shirt on one trip, pants the next, and maybe some candles (really exciting stuff I know) on the next. Then I’d repeat the process. It was my retail therapy. At face value, it seemed to make me feel better about my circumstances.

Ultimately, I left that town and that job within 6 months of arriving. I was miserable and broken and had to return to my true home in Indianapolis. Things never improved and I had the sense to cut my losses and leave rather than try to stick it out. My retail therapy didn’t fix anything. Perhaps you’d like to know why?

The reality is that retail therapy is a form of consumerism, which implies that shopping will generate happiness. I have no doubt that going from store to store may produce some pleasure for people, but any notion that this joy is permanent or even long-lasting, is absolutely ludicrous. Consumerism’s greatest lie is that more stuff is the antidote for discontent. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Having spent a significant portion of time working in third world countries like Uganda and Haiti, I’ve observed first hand that there is absolutely no correlation between wealth and happiness. In fact, many of the people who lack the most in those countries are the happiest people I’ve ever met. They aren’t burdened with stuff including the way it looks, its condition, the way it operates, and whether or not it’s safe from damage or theft. They’re focused on the people around them, not the stuff around them.

So while retail therapy may be therapeutic, it is just at as it says, a therapy. It’s a mere treatment, not a cure. Shopping won’t fill any voids. It won’t provide any of us with a lasting solution to what our souls crave. In fact, its therapeutic properties seem to diminish each time we turn to it for relief. Going back to my earlier story, I eventually woke up to the fact that the cure is found in relationships, not purchases. Ultimately my relationship with Christ and my relationships with people I cared about brought me the happiness I needed. So I ask you, what’s the sense in pursing a therapy when you can have a cure?

One Reply to “The Empty Antidote: Retail Therapy”

  1. Excellent! The excitement of a new purchase wears off quickly. We ought to know this from experience, yet we repeat the cycle over and again. I find true satisfaction in giving…especially in the form of time, energy and service. That’s real therapy! You are absolutely correct in the notion we are materially rich, but relationally poor. (I think social media reveals this quite nicely.) The other reality is you spend the first half your life accumulating stuff and the second half trying to get rid of it all! Questions to ponder while shopping: 1) Do I REALLY need this? 2) Do I love, love, love this or sort of like it? If the answer is the latter, skip it! It will only waste your resources. If it is a BIG purchase, take 24 or so to think it over. That way, you won’t have buyers regret!!

Leave a Reply