Retail therapy does exist. Here’s how your next Target run could make you happier

Raise your hand if you’ve ever aimlessly browsed the aisles at Target and immediately felt better afterwards. You can’t see me, but I’m wildly waving both of my hands—at least, you know, the ones not carefully juggling my five shopping bags and venti iced vanilla coffee from Starbucks.

For me and other women of a certain age (namely Gen X, millennials and Gen Z), Target is our sanctuary. Sure, there’s retail therapy and then there’s Target therapy, which the Los Angeles Times recently reported the company is leaning into heavily as self-care is a multibillion-dollar industry. After crying in the daycare parking lot after dropping off my daughter at her new big kid classroom last week, I made my way to Target for a little TLC.

I went in for a few returns and walked out with a set of Tabitha Brown notebooks; two new sweatshirts for me; two new outfits for my daughter; three organic baby snacks for her to try; two cartons of Oatly’s Full Fat milk; and a partridge in a pear tree. I’m kidding about that last part–it was actually a pumpkin-scented candle because I am basic in the best ways.

As the old proverb goes, “You don’t go to Target because you need something. You go to Target, and let Target tell you what you need.” And I’m happy to oblige. I don’t know what they’re pumping through the air in there, but it works. Go in for lip balm, leave with $87 worth of stuff I don’t necessarily need, but somehow now I can’t imagine living my life without. Welcome to the Target Effect.

Since becoming a mom, my weekly-ish Target runs after daycare drop-off have become somewhat of a ritual. Twenty to 30 minutes where I can zone out and not have to answer to anyone. Like other budget retailers, such as Marshall’s, TJ Maxx and HomeGoods, Target is my “happy place” and that’s largely by design.

In an interview with the TimesCara Sylvester, the company’s chief guest experience officer, said: “We build our entire experience around how we’ll make our guests feel when they shop at Target.”

This includes the literal design of the stores—brightly lit with wide aisles, departments that effortlessly flow into one another and Starbucks outposts, Justine Farrell, associate professor and chair of the marketing department at the University of San Diego’s Knauss School of Business, told the Times.

And the benefits extend beyond the store. When I was in the throes of nursing my daughter when she was a newborn, I turned to the Target app in those early morning hours to a) stay awake and b) have a look around. I may not have been able to as easily visit the physical store while recovering from a C-section, but I got the same high (hello, free two-day shipping!).

As it turns out, retail therapy is a thing. In an interview with Cleveland Clinic, clinical psychologist Dr. Scott Bea said, “Whether you’re adding items to your shopping cart online or visiting your favorite boutique for a few hours, you do get a psychological and emotional boost. Even window shopping or online browsing can bring brain-fueled happiness. But again, you want to make sure it doesn’t get out of hand.”

A 2014 study from the Journal of Consumer Psychology found that retail therapy makes us happy and it can help fight lingering sadness by helping us restore control over our environment. Meanwhile, another study from the University of Michigan found that buying things you like “can be up to 40 times more effective at giving you a sense of control than not shopping.”

Of course, shopping in moderation is key. So go ahead and add that sweater you don’t need and that candle you already have two of, your mental health will thank you.

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