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Add to Cart Sparks Joy, When Does It Become Unhealthy?

Shopping has never been this easy.
Aug 28, 2021
Photo/s: shutterstock

By Clarissa Egrubay

Everytime college student Jade Veronique Yap opens an online shopping package, the stress from a long day of virtual classes disappears, a temporary joy shared by many under lockdown and one that experts say could turn into an expensive addiction.

While Lazada and Shopee help soothe the lockdown blue of millions of Filipinos, too much shopping can lead some to hoard and spend beyond their means, defeating the purpose of sparking joy, psychologists said.

“Imagine, having a tough and stressful day at school and I receive a parcel that contains the items I bought in my shopping spree. My stress level would decrease and my worries and anxiety would be replaced with the joy and excitement of opening the parcels,” Yap said.

Yap's classmate, Patricia Kahanap,  said she feels a “special kind of happiness” while waiting for an item that she has been eyeing for a long time.

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However, adding to cart does not always evoke positive feelings. Journalism senior Jamie Louise Jimeno is ashamed because she tends to overshop " on anything as long as it catches my eye."

Lockdowns have forced shoppers to shop on their phones, where adding to cart and checking out is as easy as a few taps. It's as a coping mechanism as Gen Za and generations before them grapple with the challenges brought about by a global health crisis. 


What is retail therapy?

Retail therapy is a term that originated in the 1980s and was penned by journalist Mary T. Schmich. It is defined as a manner of shopping intended to improve the buyer’s mood. Some experts refer to it as a psychological disorder called oniomania or compulsive shopping disorder.

However, Eric Dimar, an assistant professor at the University of Santo Tomas’ (UST) psychology department and a licensed guidance counselor said there is no such thing as retail therapy.  

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“Therapy is a process to help people and make them better. In the field of the profession, there is no such thing as retail therapy, it was only coined by a consumer and not a psychologist”, Dimar said in an online interview with Talamitam. 

Hermar C. Cardiño, a registered psychometrician who also teaches at UST,  said that retail therapy is a misconception. 

“Retail therapy is not like therapy that is offered by psychologists or medical practitioners,” Cardiño said.

Dimar said there is nothing wrong with rewarding one’s self after a hard day’s work if the purchase is planned and not excessive.

“[Determine whether] you are buying the things you actually need… are buying within a budget and [whether] the purchases planned. Ask yourself if it is intentional or impulsive?”, he said.

Buyers should also observe their shopping habits, Dimar added.

Shoppers consider several things when deciding whether to add an item to the cart including quality, price, customer ratings, and reviews.

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“I also make sure to read reviews and see actual photos of the product before buying them. Especially when I buy clothes online, considering that I’m a plus-sized person, it’s important that I read other customers’ experiences before trying out the item for myself,” Kahanap said.

Jimeno said she can be a bit adventurous in trying out new things.

“I also look at the reviews of those who bought before me to see what they liked about the item -pros and cons- and the like”, she added.

Yap said price and necessity are her considerations when buying an item.

Online shopping can be unhealthy, too

While shopping can be a stress buster for some, it can also trigger changes in attitudes.

Being a K-pop fan, Yap admitted to hoarding albums of her favourite band, costing her a hefty sum.

“I would buy an album every month. There was a time when I bought three albums in just one month. When I calculated my expenses, it [totalled] almost P12,000 in less than a year”, she said.

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Jimeno said retail therapy changed the way she spends her money.

“Before online shopping was a thing, I [would] usually [spend] my money only on food or travel for my ‘me-time,’ for my commute and the like. Now that online shopping is a thing and is here to stay, she said.

“Add to [that the] fact that a pandemic has forced me to aimlessly surf the internet for anything to appease my boredom.”

Dimar said uncontrolled shopping has an effect on one’s mental health and if it continues, it could lead to an unhealthy addiction.

“If you’re buying things beyond your budget, that is not healthy. It might have an effect on your mental health, it’s just like a temporary high, and eventually lead into a particular addiction. Buying things that will just give one that temporary high will not be helpful in the long run”, he said.

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“It will change your behavior, the way you control yourself and the way that you think about things.”

Cardiño noted that the positive effects of shopping are temporary.

“There are short effects, it gives happiness but it is not long-lasting. The idea of it is scary because sometimes when one splurges too much online, it will be a cause of addiction,” Cardiño added. 

‘Save something for yourself’

Yap, Kahanap, and Jimeno are aware that they should spend their money wisely to avoid financial hardships.

“Buy expensive items only if they prove to be more durable and of better quality compared to cheaper options. But ultimately, while ‘retail therapy’ gives you a satisfying feeling, make sure to remain rational when spending your money. That satisfying feeling comes and goes, and it can be achieved through other means,” Kahanap said.

Yap said one can achieve satisfaction without going broke.

“Treat yourself everytime you reach milestones or whenever you feel like to but do not hoard. Do not overspend. Save something for yourself”, Yap said.

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“Buy only the things that you need and the things that spark joy for you. It’s okay to spend, but don’t spend too much,” she added.

Jimeno said shoppers should consider the ‘20-30-50 method’ wherein only 20% of the money is spent, 30% is invested or used for necessities and 50% goes to savings.

For Dimar, the key to preventing excessive shopping and the financial constraints that come with lies on a basic truth.

“You don’t need material things to be happy,” he said.


This article is an output of Talamitam, a network of schools established in 2017 by journalism societies of the University of Santo Tomas, Bulacan State University, Colegio de San Juan de Letran, Lyceum of the Philippines University, Polytechnic University of the Philippines and University of the East. Talamitam aims to empower ordinary citizens through community journalism, focusing on topics not commonly reported by the mainstream media and alternative angles of current issues. To achieve its goal of raising public awareness about community issues, Talamitam contributes articles to media outlets. News organizations can use or republish the stories for free provided they give credit to Talamitam and the authors.

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Talamitam is a Tagalog-Kapampangan word for conversation.

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