Shop Till You Drop (Your Self Esteem)

by Katie Gangloff

As we begin the busiest shopping season with Black Friday and the holidays around the corner, the world deserves to know the truth about shopping (the world can handle the truth). During this change in seasons, marketers take their best shot at selling us useless stuff like Snuggies and Inflatable Fruitcakes. Sales Associates are told to put on happy faces and give you excellent customer service. But, does this really bring you happiness? Do you get home from a big shopping day and think, “WOW! I am so glad I just spent $400 on gifts for my friends?” Sorry Carrie Bradshaw fans, recent research tells us that there is a correlation between shopping and unhappiness.


Our research this week comes from an article in The New York Times from early September talking about Sunday shopping. It introduced research from DePaul University in Chicago and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel. The researchers, Cohen-Zada and Sander, tracked levels of happiness and church attendance on Sunday’s among Americans. Their focus was on how shopping facilitated unhappiness. Specifically Cohen-Zada and Sander tracked Americans living in certain states that had “repealed so-called blue laws, which once required most retailers to say closed on Sundays.” These blue laws were put in place to accommodate religion, specifically Christianity. Certain things were not allowed to be sold on Sundays because people were supposed to be in church.

The researchers, Cohen-Zada and Sander, take data from the “General Social Survey” (GSS) which polls individuals who are at least 18 years old about American opinions and trends. One question on the survey asked how often the respondents attended church and another asked how happy they considered themselves. This is how Cohen-Zada and Sander got their information on the correlation of church correlating to happiness and shopping equaling less happiness. In order to control for the blue laws, they took information from people who lived in states that had clear blue laws in previous years and states that had no significant changes.

“The results in this study are consistent with the hypothesis that religious participation as measured by church attendance has a positive effect on happiness. …decline in church attendance brought about by the repeal in blue laws seemed to result in lower levels of happiness. This was especially the case for women who attended church.” (Cohen-Zada and Sander)

Cohen-Zada and Sander have no definite reason why shopping has a negative effect on happiness, but they give it a try. “An excessive focus on materialism or consumerism provides less meaning than religion.” Who enjoys shopping for themselves all the time? Well, maybe Paris Hilton, but who didn’t know that? Shopping is an instant fix, whereas religion acts as a long term relationship which facilitates happiness.

So remember this holiday season that shopping isn’t always the answer to happiness. Also, try not to get sucked into consumerism too much, otherwise there is no hope for any of us.

Religious Participation Versus Shopping: What Makes People Happier?
by: Danny Cohen-Zada and William Sander

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