Charity therapy

By Patricia Kasten | The Compass | November 27, 2013

The thrills of shopping, none of the guilt

Black Friday. Cyber Monday. Small Business Saturday. Will you be there? Will you bag your sales bucks?

We’ve all experienced the feeling: “I got such a deal.” “I waited all year for this sale.” “I got all my Christmas presents for this year — and some for next.” “I got the cutest shoes, the best sweater, the best car deal …”

It’s called retail therapy, defined by Oxford Dictionaries as “shopping to make oneself feel happier.”

Sometimes it’s a reward: “Let’s go out to dinner to celebrate.”

Sometimes it’s for consolation: “That super latte will make me feel better.”

Then there’s “You deserve a break today.”

Most of us use it. A recent study by TNS Global, a market research firm, found that more than 50 percent of Americans engage in retail therapy. A 2011 study for The British Psychology Society found 62 percent of shoppers buying something to cheer themselves up. Another 28 percent bought things to celebrate.

Retailers play on this. “It’s the holidays. Show your love by how much you spend.” “If you didn’t get what you wanted last year, there’s still time.”

Henry Brinton, a Presbyterian pastor in Fairfax, Va., recently blogged about the urge to holiday shop: “Family meals are losing their competition with shopping sprees. The gifts of life and health are taken for granted as we concentrate on shiny and expensive material gifts. And since we have so many struggles at work and at home these days, we often look for the cheap high that comes from buying something nice for ourselves. It’s called ‘retail therapy.’”

Now there’s nothing wrong with gift buying. And a cookie after a hard day or a weekend at the beach after a hard work project can be healthy breaks. But how often have you bought something and found the thrill of the hunt gone before you even got the item out of the bag at home? They call that “buyer’s remorse.” The thrill wears off and we’re left with reality — “I didn’t need this” — or even with guilt over spending the money.

Everything in life is about balance. Even holiday shopping.

Holiday gifting goes back at least to the Wise Men. Gifts are a good thing. But once you’ve got your list ready, why not stop there and turn some of the urge for retail therapy into something we could call “charity therapy.”

For example, there are alternative gift fairs at many churches during the next weeks. They feature the gifts we love to give — baubles, jewelry, sweaters and food. But these are made by people in Third World countries — usually women — who receive money from the sales to fund their family’s expenses.

There are groups like the Heifer Project, which lets you give the gift of a goat or a hatch of chickens in your name, or the name of a loved one, to a Third World village. A village of people gets a source of food. What could be more fun than giving a goat?

Don’t forget groups like Toys for Tots. Who doesn’t like toys? Shopping for Toys for Tots offers the thrill of the sale and the joy of the hunt. And not even time for buyer’s remorse because you can often pay for the toy and drop it off in the same store or mall. The joy of bagging that deal is nothing compared to the joy of a child’s face on Christmas morning. (You won’t see it, but God will.) And don’t forget the teens — toy collections often have enough dolls, trucks and building blocks to go around; but teens are harder. And they need gifts as much as anyone.

So when you feel that need for retail therapy this Christmas season, think about making it charity therapy — all the thrill, none of the guilt.

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The Nov. 18 print edition of The Compass has been delayed due to a press break-down.
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