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After a bad day, you might feel like you deserve a treat and order that pair of shoes you've had your eye on. But psychologists have wondered if that impulse purchase can end up leaving you feeling more unfulfilled than happy.

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You had a bad day, so when you get  home, you decide to cheer yourself up by ordering a fancy dinner or that  pair of shoes you’ve been eyeing to treat yo’ self, also known as retail therapy. And you are not alone more than half of Americans indulge  in some type of retail therapy, and psychologists have wondered if it actually leaves us feeling  more unfulfilled than happy.

But recent research suggests that retail  therapy can actually improve your mood, even in the long-term. The phrase retail therapy refers to the  process of trying to cheer yourself up by buying yourself gifts or treats. And the purchase can be triggered  by a range of negative emotions, like sadness, stress, or low self-esteem.

The purchase might look, or even feel,  impulsive, because it basically is. But at the same time, it’s also intentional, because you’re buying something  specifically to cheer you up. Behavior like that, which is  both impulsive but intentional, might sound contradictory, but  according to the self-regulation theory, it kind of makes sense.

This theory says that you’re  constantly balancing your thoughts, emotions, impulses, and behaviors. So if your need to regulate your negative  emotions is in conflict with your need to regulate your impulsive decisions, you may  intentionally shift some of your energy from impulse control to emotional regulation. In other words, you give into  the impulse to buy that thing, in order to help regulate your mood!

And researchers have checked  to see if these purchases actually succeed in cheering folks up. A 2011 study of 69 college students  found that every single one had purchased something as a treat during the previous week, and 62% said they bought it  explicitly to cheer themselves up. A similar study was done in 2014,  where it showed buying something after a sad movie made  people feel better afterward.

So in both studies, mood  improved after making a purchase, but the best part is those  good feelings stick around! In that same 2011 study,  participants were asked how they felt after two weeks of making the purchase. And the people who bought  something to cheer themselves up reported fewer negative feelings  about their impulse buy.

But there is a caveat. Some research has found that retail  therapy doesn’t seem to work with stronger emotions like anger, or more  chronic negative feelings like loneliness. And researchers think that  actually has to do with choice.

Things like sadness can be associated with  feeling like a situation is out of control, and that you’re at the whims of some  intangible force that’s screwing things up. So one way to control your sadness is  to control your sense of, well, control. When you’re feeling temporarily sad or  bad about yourself, making intentional choices like where to shop and what to  buy are things you have control over.

So, retail therapy might not be great  for anger, because that emotion can be associated with the feeling that other  people are causing your negative feelings. And controlling your environment won’t  change what someone else is doing. So retail therapy isn’t just  a fun activity to distract you or even the thrill of getting something new.

The important part is that  you’re choosing your own treat. But even though it’s called retail  therapy, it isn’t actual therapy, and it has limitations. Too much retail therapy can be  problematic for your bank account.

And while it can help lessen negative emotions, it doesn’t usually address  the cause of those emotions. But pay attention to what negative  emotions you’re soothing with shopping. If you feel tense, anxious, or  preoccupied when you’re not shopping and relieved when you finally do, or if  your shopping habit is creating financial or personal problems, that might  actually be compulsive shopping.

The good news is that healthy retail  therapy doesn’t cause new negative emotions. Even though retail therapy  purchases may be unplanned, people don’t tend to have  much guilt, buyer’s remorse, or anxiety after the honeymoon  period with their new toy has passed. See, most people stay within their budget when they’re trying to cheer themselves up.

In fact, one study found that  people who are treating themselves because they’re in a bad mood tend to  spend less money on their unplanned purchases than people who are treating  themselves to celebrate something. So after the purchase, retail  therapy shoppers don’t usually feel like they’ve overindulged,  and they don’t try to make up for their treat by returning it, or  making budget cuts in another area. They just let themselves enjoy it.

This is also called mental accounting. When you make an unplanned purchase, you shift money around among categories  while constantly doing bookkeeping and maintaining flexible categories of spending. So it's possible we don't feel  buyer's remorse in these situations because we feel like we deserve a treat.

And if we’ve earned it, there’s  no reason to regret it later. So go ahead and choose to treat  yo’ self after your next bad day. You’ll feel better, and  there aren’t many downsides.

As long, of course, as you treat with moderation. Thanks for watching this episode of SciShow Psych! We’ve made a bunch of educational videos  and, and we’ve been able to offer them for free because of our patrons on Patreon.

So, to all our patrons — thank you  for making SciShow Psych happen. If you’re not a patron but want to  learn more about what that means, you can go to [♪ OUTRO].