Shopping won’t make you happier

How to feel better this Black Friday

The holiday season is fast approaching, which means our inboxes and social media feeds will be filling up with adverts encouraging us to spend. Thousands of consumers will take part in Black Friday this November, as retailers encourage us to bag a bargain — often shopping for things we don’t even need.

Although originally an American tradition, Black Friday is becoming increasingly popular in countries around the world, with shoppers reportedly spending £2.9bn last year.

When you’re feeling down it’s tempting to turn to a little “retail therapy” and there is a buzz in finding a bargain deal in the sales — but will shopping really make us happier?

At it’s heart, Black Friday is a marketing campaign offering us tempting ‘bargains’ designed to get us to spend more. A study published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology suggested that shopping can make us feel less sad, but the frenzy of Black Friday shopping doesn’t always have the desired effect — like this woman in 2014 who bought a Dyson vacuum and wasn’t even sure she wanted it.

With all those adverts and ‘great deals’ flying around it can be easy to get caught up in the Black Friday mania — but research into overconsumption by Greenpeace found that the buzz from shopping wears off quickly — usually within less than a day.

Research by the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute found that more than nine in ten people with mental health issues say they overspend and struggle to make financial decisions when unwell. Although “retail therapy” might feel good at the time, the effects are often short lived, and on Black Friday it might not be such a relaxing experience.

In previous years we’ve seen queues forming outside hours before the shops even open and watched in horror as arguments erupt and even turn violent. A survey by Traidcraft found that 54% of shoppers admitted to feeling stressed, anxious and even argumentative when doing their Christmas shopping, and 2 out of 3 said they would snatch the last item from the shelf, even if another shopper was reaching for it.

If there’s nothing material you need this Black Friday, the easiest way to avoid the chaos is to unplug. By avoiding the online adverts and staying away from the shops, you won’t get swept up into buying things you don’t need. Avoid the shopping stress and buyer’s remorse by steering clear of Black Friday.

Boycotts of the trend have become popular in recent years for a variety of reasons — from protesters taking a stand in the fight for human rights to ethical businesses encouraging people to consider the wider social and environmental impact of their purchases.

Electrical goods and clothing are two of the most purchased things on Black Friday, and yet DEFRA have reported that 350,000 tonnes of clothing going to landfill each year and electrical and electronic equipment is the fastest growing waste stream in the UK.

Mass consumption is affecting the planet and the people that produce these items, with factory workers in developing countries often working long hours in unsafe conditions for very little wages. The buzz of buying new clothes or makeup can quickly wear off when you realise that sweatshops, child labour or animal testing are behind your bargain buy.

Luckily, social enterprises and ethical businesses around the world are making a positive impact with their profit and reducing the negative impact of mass consumption, environmental damage and labour abuses.

Ethical businesses are changing people’s lives, improving communities and protecting the environment. According to Social Enterprise UK, there are nearly 80,000 social enterprises in the UK, employing over a million people and contributing more than £24 billion to the UK economy.

Shopping might make us temporarily happier, but the negative impact of overconsumption isn’t worth the quick thrill from a bit of unnecessary retail therapy — and consumers are starting to realise it. A report by Ethical Consumer found that 53% of the UK population are choosing to avoid buying products and/or services over “concerns about ethical reputation.”

However, researchers found that people who spend a higher proportion of their income on gifts for others and donations to charity, compared to personal spending, reported themselves as happier in a survey.

Studies have also found that when we give to charity the midbrain region responsible for pleasure rewards actually lights up. and that when you give to specific charitable projects where you can see a tangible impact you feel happier.

The social enterprise business model is built around making a real, tangible impact on specific environmental or social goals by reinvesting profits.

So if you do feel the need to shop this Black Friday, spend your money with a social enterprise instead. By purchasing from ethical businesses you can satisfy your shopping cravings safe in the knowledge that the people who made your product were treated fairly and that any negative environmental impact has been kept to a minimum wherever possible.

Plus you’ll also have the positive feeling of contributing to their social impact project and helping them make a difference, which according to scientists makes us happier for longer than bagging a quick bargain in the sales.

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