I have often wondered why the term ‘retail therapy’ can’t be applied more holistically to our lives.
Don’t get me wrong. I love shopping as much as you do. But while an unrestrained bout of splurging can lead to a momentary high, that rush of dopamine – the molecule behind our most sinful and secret cravings – tends to be very short-lived. So short-lived, in fact, that it’s almost over the moment a purchase is made. One could argue that the moments between a desire for acquisition and its consequent consummation is where the real rush is generated. Yet, as soon as the product is bagged, the rush turns to plummet. Life feels routine again. The magic is no longer in the air because it has now been debited from your bank account and you are left holding two things: a brand of your choice and buyer’s remorse. Oh well.
But what if retail therapy were used as a means of self-transformation? Self-education perhaps? A way to find our real selves and, as antithetical as it sounds, as a means of shopping for a more elevated version of our normal lives?
You may agree. A smart suit may give us outside confidence, but what if ‘retail therapy’ was to give us confidence on the inside? Can a suit fix the issues that led us to purchase it in the first place?
We all think of ‘retail therapy’ as entertainment. As a way to break out of routine and bask in the mall of the trivial and the unnecessary. It’s something we enjoy. And for those of us with surplus wealth, the activity becomes a career of connecting branded dots, so that the good life has the ramparts of all the illusions we value in order to impress those we seek to rival. But why stop at enjoyment? Retail therapy also has the power to do some seriously beneficial things for us.
At its core, retail therapy can help us with our mental well-being. It can – if approached without a visceral need for hoarding, for instance – play an important role in helping us to grow up and fix the immaturities and imbalances in our personality. It can deploy itself as a form of therapy in our lives by helping us to go from a place of imitation to a place of salvation. But in order for it to work, shopaholics need to sober up and change the way they go about choosing what they buy. Firstly, they should realise that the retail industry (and that includes the tsunami of advertising and branding behind it) has a way of slicing the world up into material categories. These categories are almost always, and almost entirely, bereft of the needs of our inner sanctum.
At the risk of sounding like Deepak Chopra, all of us are on an inner journey – which is to say, we are all working on developing ourselves in unique or particular ways. We might be looking for ways to combat our need to de-stress. We might be on a search for more egalitarian relationships. We might be longing for more confidence, or wanting to escape debilitating feelings of loneliness. In an ideal world, the right kind of retail therapy will assist in bridging the outer journey with the inner one.
But for this to work, we need to be clear about what we are looking for on the inside, so that we can adequately measure what the outside can presumably deliver for us. In part, this means looking at the world of retail in new ways. There must be retailers who can help with anger. Others, who can lift melancholy. Some, who can reduce the weight of egoism; still others, who can help prioritise our future. No one has yet retailed a brand that can help outfit our inner lives, but it is a project that needs consideration; a project that can help align retail destinations with inner potential so that whatever we wear or surround ourselves with, offers us both a physical and a psychological reward.
In this way, retail therapy will be more than a bit of vacuous adventure – something equally enjoyable and gradually forgettable – but an occasion to fundamentally reconfigure our most secret ambitions so that the outer world also holds the keys to help us go within.