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'Retail Therapy' Might Not Be So Bad After All

Are you a one-upper, comfort seeker or 'happy hedonist' shopper?
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WebMD News from HealthDay

By Kathleen Doheny

HealthDay Reporter

FRIDAY, Aug. 2 (HealthDay News) -- Those who love to shop are often painted as lonely souls, trying to fill a void by buying -- and becoming even more isolated in the process.

Not always so, according to new Dutch research. The relationship of shopping and loneliness can go both ways -- and the direction seems to have a lot to do with why you shop, according to researcher Rik Pieters, a professor of marketing at Tilburg University in the Netherlands.

Shoppers who could be described as "happy hedonists" may become less lonely, he found.

"It is not a good idea to shop to become happy or to own more than others, but shopping for the fun of shopping might actually be not a bad idea after all," he said.

Pieters collected data from more than 2,500 Dutch consumers for six years, interviewing them to evaluate their levels of loneliness and materialism. He obtained information on why they shopped and then studied how everything interacted.

Loneliness can foster materialism, he found, but materialism of the right type can reduce loneliness.

"Overall, materialism led to a small, but significant, increase in loneliness over time," he said. But he found the type of materialism was important in the effect on loneliness.

People who bought things to raise their social status -- "You have more blue jeans than I do, but my house has more square feet'' -- tended to get more lonely. Those who used stuff as medicine or panaceas -- "When I finally own my own 1,200cc motorbike, I will enjoy life and be truly happy" -- got even more lonely than the one-uppers, he explained.

However, those who bought for sheer enjoyment -- as part of a ''lifestyle of happy hedonism'' -- did best. "It turns out this latter type of materialism actually reduces loneliness, most likely because the enjoyment spreads to other people," Pieters said. "There is no bragging, comparison, or envy involved."

Of course, people may switch back and forth between types of materialism, he said.

The study was published online July 11 in the Journal of Consumer Research and will appear in the December print issue.

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