MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Over the long Thanksgiving weekend, the National Retail Federation reports the average shopper spent about $300.

Three-quarters of that total went towards gifts for others, but a big chunk of the spending went towards ourselves. Either way, you can bet most shoppers enjoyed that feeling of walking away with something new.

So, why do we like to buy stuff?  Good Question.

“We’ve long had the question, does buying stuff make us happy,” Kim McKeage, a professor of consumer behavior at Hamline University’s School of Business, said. “Twenty years ago, I did the research on this and, yes, it does.”

McKeage says buying new things does seem to release positive brain chemicals, like other things that cause pleasure.

“It’s like a drug, getting a hit when you purchase something,” Vladas Griskevicius, a professor of marketing at the Carlson School of Management, said. “You own something, it’s part of you.”

Long-time research has shown buying makes us feels like we’ve accomplished something. People appreciate having the wherewithal and the mobility to buy what we want.

“A lot of things in our lives, we’re looking to maintain control or power over outcomes and situation,” McKeage said. “Buying is an empowering thing for consumers, to be able to go into the marketplace and do that.”

Some shoppers point to the idea of overcoming tension – Will I find the right thing? Will it still be there?  Is it on sale?

“It’s the thrill, I guess it’s the thrill,” Ariana Anderson of Ham Lake said.

That thrill doesn’t usually last long.

“That sort of emotional high you get from many purchases does typically wear out fairly rapidly, which is why it’s easy to get into the cycle of needing or wanting the next thing,” McKeage said.

But, gift-giving is different because it tends to be an even more positive experience all-around.  McKeage says we sometimes feel guilty shopping for ourselves.

“Gift-giving, on the other hand, you get the happiness of getting it now, the anticipation of giving it to someone else and the happiness of them having received it,” she said. “So you get more episodes of happiness there.”

Heather Brown

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