Shopping for Happiness?

jeans on a rack

By Sunny Yuran Pei

| Many people choose to go shopping when they are upset. However, scientists have found that shopping does not necessarily lighten their mood, instead, shopping often adds stress.

American holidays have started to lose their original purpose of celebrating special events and spending time with friends. Instead, gift shopping has become the top priority. People spend hours waiting outside stores instead of savoring family time. In 2014, 95.5 million people shopped on Black Friday, and 140 million people shopped over Thanksgiving weekend. The amount of holiday shoppers took up 45% of American population. Although the holidays should be a time of joy, as more emphasis is placed on material goods the holidays start to put us in a time of misery.

Why do people think that shopping makes them happier? Psychologists have found that happiness is highly connected to life satisfaction and wellbeing. When you buy a new phone or new dress, you are too excited to keep your hands off it. But as time going by, you get used to it and everything returns to the “baseline.” Psychologists call this phenomenon Hedonic Adaption. Hedonic adaption refers to “the observed tendency of humans to quickly return a relatively stable level of happiness despite major positive or negative events of life changes.” For example, if a person starts to make more money, their desires and expectations will rise simultaneously, but ultimately will not contribute to overall gains in happiness. Hedonic adaption explains why we feel we never have enough stuff, because we quickly grow tired of our possessions. We cannot deny the excitement of having something new, but our joy only lasts for a short while.

If shopping cannot cheer us up, what should we do? Leaf Van Boven and Thomas Gilovich conducted a study called “To do or to have.” In the study, they claimed “men fancy that external goods are the cause of happiness, but leisure of itself gives pleasure and happiness and enjoyment in life.” Research demonstrates that “materialistic people tend to report lower subjective well-being than non-materialistic people.” People don’t become happier by getting stuff, instead they become satisfied and fulfilled by doing stuff. This is because no amount of material possessions will be enough to live up to our desires and expectations. Instead, life satisfaction is created by engaging with others and creating meaningful experiences.

Indeed, compared to endless shopping, happiness produced by doing lasts longer. Doing creates bonds and strengthens relationships between people. But because social relationships are less predictable than object relationships, social relationships slow down Hedonic Adaption. Because of this, strengthening social relationships is essential to personal wellbeing.

Ultimately, shopping doesn’t make your happier, but being active and spending quality time with family and friends does. You only live once, so stop waiting in line at the mall, and start to share your time doing fun things with friends and families.


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