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Retail Therapy
Mom with a View

Retail Therapy

Why shopping, of all things, is good for your health.


Just in time for the holidays comes this welcome news from the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health (as cited in More magazine, December 2011/January 2012): Retail Therapy Works!

You weren’t expecting that, were you? Daily shopping seems to cut a woman’s risk for early death by 23 percent (I can’t wait to show this statistic to my husband!). Apparently researchers suspect (without any concrete evidence) that the health benefits are due to the “…physical activity that running errands requires, socializing with people you meet along the way and enjoying the fun of getting out of the house…”

Maybe. But I have another theory (equally without concrete evidence). It’s unclear what type of shopping is referred to here. If it is grocery shopping, then there can definitely be a social component, although I sometimes think the experience at the market can hasten rather than delay death!

I actually believe that it is not the social component that’s crucial in this shopping situation (although having friends and community clearly has important health benefits), but the exact opposite.

It’s the anonymity of the shopping experience that’s soothing. It’s the complete alone time (except for some of those annoying sales women who want to see how you look in every outfit – “no problem, this extra-large runs small; this petite runs large” – but are never around when you actually need a different size!). It’s the all-consuming and all-absorbing distraction of the experience.

Whether we are home with our children, working, in school, or some combination, whether we are married or single, our lives are stressful. Someone or something is always pulling on us. Shopping is one of those rare occasions when we can simultaneously be involved in activity and yet left alone.

All else fades – all the needs awaiting us, the dishes, the work project, the emails, the homework, the term papers, the bills due (this latter can be a problem under the circumstances!) as we focus solely on the situation at hand.

There’s just enough activity to keep our minds and bodies involved but not enough to engage our emotions, leaving us – albeit briefly – anxiety free. (Madison Avenue take note!)

So I wasn’t surprised to read that statistic, just a little taken aback at its source. And I don’t think the lesson is really that we need to shop more (okay dear, you can breathe a sigh of relief now). The point is that we need to refresh and reinvigorate ourselves. And in order to do, we need to find activities that occupy our minds and bodies but not our hearts.

Perhaps cooking, perhaps exercise. Perhaps a Torah class. (There I said it -- I am a Rebbetzin after all.) A Torah study class actually fits the bill perfectly – it’s completely intellectually engaging and all-involving without any emotional pain. I don’t know if the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health wants to conduct that study but I’m sure they would find that women involved in learning Torah, women who have an in-depth involvement with the wisdom of our heritage and the words and lessons of our Creator have decreased their risk of early death even more.

December 24, 2011

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Visitor Comments: 9

(9) Tina L, December 31, 2011 4:47 PM

Torah Lessons can be great IF:

If you listen to Torah lessons and start getting stressed that you have to do all that you hear - that is not good. However, if you realize that you can listen, relax, learn, enjoy and maybe slowly think of changing or accepting one small thing (with no pressure on yourself) then this can be the best thing because you can relax and also gives your Neshama (soul) energy to go on Hatzlacha to all :)

(8) Anonymous, December 29, 2011 2:04 AM

Actually Torah learning is about self growth and can be very emotional and stressful so I don't think its at all anxiety free or an easy task like shopping. The reason shopping and cooking and exercise is good is sometimes its good to just turn off and do mindless tasks.

(7) Ruth Housman, December 28, 2011 10:31 PM

another kind of retail therapy: Re Tale Therapy

Hi, I was caught by your title because I just taught a course that was a re-examination of children's classic books, such as The Little Prince, The Secret Garden, The Phantom Toll Booth and my course, in the adults in retirement program at Regis College locally, was titled, Re Tale Therapy. And of course, your entertaining discussion of the joys of shopping did wind up in a somewhat same place, namely the JOY of books, and in your case, Jewish Learning. We are, after all, known as, The People of, The BOOK. I have to say, I am, hooked on books!

(6) yehudit, December 28, 2011 6:19 PM

good for the body, not for the soul

the effects of shopping may be good for the body, but not for the soul: that's the problem with all these studies. As you suggested and one of the commenters above, when involved in an activity doing something necessary or altruistic, this is "good therapy:", because it is good for the soul. When doing an activity that is simply releasing all the "pleasure" hormones, it's only good for the body. The world at large wants us to think that what is good for the body is good for the soul. We Jews know it's the exact OPPOSITE: what's good for the soul, is good for the body, or rather: stills and quietens the materialistic demands of the body.

(5) Anonymous, December 28, 2011 3:28 PM

What about annoying Salesmen

Are you sexist?

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