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Shopping — what a love-hate (but mostly love) relationship we have!

It’s initially pretty straightforward. I absolutely love buying new clothes, but hate what it does to my bank account. I’m thinking you might have this kind of issue also.

But it’s deeper than just, “I like my Sketcher sneakers, but I love my Prada backpack” (Double points if you catch the reference.). It’s psychological. I love how it makes me feel — as my mom likes to point out to me, “you’re always in a better mood when you’ve bought something.”

I justify my expensive habits with typical Penn logic: it helps the economy — which needs all the help it can get. As any graduate of an Econ 001 can tell you, increased consumption is a major factor in raising economies out of a slump.

But knowing full well that you might be writing me off as some shallow princess who lives at Anthropologie (although the one at Rittenhouse Square is housed at a former residence), I turned to Deborah Small, a Wharton Marketing professor, for some hard facts.

Initially, my intuitive assumptions were confirmed. “People seek out shopping or consumption as a way to regulate their mood. Evidence shows that when people are depressed or sad they go shopping,” Small explained to me. See — I was totally right.

But then she continued: “People tend to believe they get more happiness from material goods than they actually do,” she said. “Research shows that people who spend more money on experiences than material goods are happier.”

Wait — what?

I feel like such a cliche.

As she sensibly explained, and as I’m assuming most Marketing students already know, there are two types of shopping: necessary and unnecessary. (Think: Judy really needs a new sweater because it is cold out. Steve, on the other hand, really needs a new sweater because it would look fabulous with his new haircut.) Sadly but obviously, the type most of us indulge in when we pop over to American Apparel, Urban Outfitters or the Gap after a bad midterm is the of the unnecessary variety.

Studies have shown that consumers routinely mis-predict how much happiness unnecessary shopping will bring them. In reality, Small told me, consumers would be much happier spending money on some quality socializing over quality knitwear.

So does my overall happiness increase after a J. Crew run, even a little?

“It does a little bit, but not to the degree people expect it will,” Small said, offering restaurant outings, baseball games or museums as a better alternative to the mall.

But I can’t buy this as the entire story. To me, new clothes represent possibility, and the purchase isn’t unnecessary. I’m buying this new dress (even though I have a dress) not because I need it, but because who knows what could happen while I’m wearing it?

And while the positive feelings I get the first time I wear that dress might not be as high as I had hoped, I still feel better and more confident wearing a new dress than I do wearing an older one

Maybe it’s a girl thing.

Yet knowing I would get more happiness out of socializing over buying yet another new headband has given me food for thought, and something I will definitely consider next time I want to chase away the blues.

But maybe I need some new shoes for the next time we all hang out?

Arielle Kane is a College senior from Briarcliff Manor, N.Y. Her e-mail address is

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