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Why Retail Therapy Feels Good, But Won't Make You Happier in the Long Run

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Hi. My name is Shaunacy, and I have a retail therapy addiction.

I suffer from chronic depression, so when I say I buy things I don't need when I am sad, I'm not talking about a rare occurrence. I feel down enough to engage in shopping as therapy often enough that it probably qualifies as a regular shopping addiction, but it’s usually when my regular doses of medicine and traditional therapy aren’t enough that I turn to the minor joys of consumerism. The highs are fleeting, but they are highs nonetheless, in times when other forms of happiness are hard to muster. This year, as my bank account began to take several devastating hits due to my low moods, I began to wonder: Was it worth it? Was retail therapy actually therapeutic in some slight way, or was I emptying my checking and savings accounts without benefiting in the least?

On a personal level, 2016 wasn’t a particularly great year for me, emotionally or financially. Within hours of a devastating breakup, I dropped $280 on a robot vacuum.

This boyfriend and I didn't live together. We didn't share any accounts, neither bank nor Netflix. By legal and financial standards, we were not attached at all—other than in the sense that I would no longer be able to log on to his Amazon Prime account to watch the latest season of Check It Out! with Dr. Steve Brule (retail: $15). And yet, still, the breakup had the potential to become financially crippling. Within the week, my budget app would be in the red by more than $200, a figure that grew substantially as the weeks went on. And that doesn't even include the money I spent on actual therapy.

I had the savings necessary to cover the costs of my temporary loss of financial sanity, or I would have spent the next month eating canned beans for every meal. I might not have spent quite so much if I hadn't known I had this cushion, but I wasn't thinking clearly, either. It felt like a compulsion. I probably would have overspent no matter what my bank account said, in search of some kind of distraction that could make me feel better. The threat of overspending, in fact, was a little intoxicating. I muttered Tom Haverford's motto from Parks and Recreation over and over: "Treat yo'self." It felt like I deserved it, as silly as that seems. I needed it. It felt like buying all that stuff would help me get my life back.

A compulsive desire to buy things can get serious for some people. Retail therapy, can, in fact, be a sign of a real psychological issue—compulsive buying disorder, an actual shopping addiction, one that typically results in massive debt that sufferers keep secret from friends and family. According to one review of the little research there is on CBD, negative emotions like depression, anxiety, and boredom tend to precede shopping sprees. Once the purchase is made, the shopper tends to feel euphoria and relief.

The symptoms feel frighteningly familiar. April Benson, a New York-based psychologist and the author of To Buy or Not to Buy: Why We Overshop and How to Stop, says that one of the reasons people over-shop is to exert some sort of control over their lives. “This is a situation you can control—‘I see it, I like it; I buy it; it’s mine,’” she tells mental_floss. Whereas many other parts of our lives are out of control, whether it’s falling ill or being ghosted by someone on Tinder.

For most people, buying something is an enjoyable process. You get the satisfaction of finding something you want and acquiring it. “It can give [people] a feeling of mastery,” Benson explains. That only becomes a problem when you overdo it, just like enjoying food only becomes a problem when it becomes excessive.

Eric Storch, a clinical psychology professor in the pediatrics department at the University of South Florida’s medical school who studies Obsessive Compulsive Disorder in children and adults, says it’s unclear how exactly compulsion works in the brain, whether in OCD or in compulsive shopping, but for over-shoppers, buying something does trigger the brain’s reward response.

“For a lot of people there’s just this kind of need to fulfill the impulse to acquire it, and once one acquires it, there’s this rush of pleasure and release of tension that’s reinforcing,” he tells mental_floss. Because you get a temporary high from buying something, shopping becomes a repetitive act. You feel a little down, you buy something, you feel a little better, and then when that high fades and you’re back to feeling terrible, the cycle starts again. It’s a little therapeutic in the short term, but you’ll never be satisfied, either.

Retail therapy won’t actually solve depression or heartbreak. If anything, it adds yet another layer of stress to a bad situation: You know that you might feel better in the moment, but you won’t feel so good when the credit card bill comes due. To counteract this, consider starting a splurge fund. You certainly shouldn’t spend your life savings trying to buy your way out of unhappiness, but tucking some money away so that you have a bank account buffer for the next particularly dark time in your personal life isn’t a bad idea. I certainly realize now that I need to divert some of my spending money to a future retail therapy fund.

Still, it’s also important to realize that that new t-shirt or record player isn’t what you’re looking for, really. “You can never get enough of what you don’t really need,” as Benson puts it. “When you were very depressed, you probably needed something other than what you bought,” she tells me. “You might have needed love and affection or a sense of belonging.” Unfortunately, emotional security is one of the few things you can’t find on

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Switzerland Flushes $1.8 Million in Gold Down the Sewer Every Year
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Switzerland has some pretty valuable sewer systems. As Bloomberg reports, scientists have discovered around $1.8 million worth of gold in the country's wastewater, along with $1.7 million worth of silver.

Scientists at the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology examined sewage sludge and effluents, or discharged liquid waste, from 64 water treatment plants and major Swiss rivers. They did this to assess the concentrations of various trace elements, which are "increasingly widely used in the high-tech and medical sectors," the scientists explained in a press statement. "While the ultimate fate of the various elements has been little studied to date, a large proportion is known to enter wastewater."

The study, which was recently published online in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, revealed that around 94 pounds of gold makes its way through Switzerland's sewage system each year, along with 6600 pounds of silver and high concentrations of rare metals like gadolinium and niobium. For the most part, these metals don't harm the environment, researchers say.

With gold and silver quite literally flowing through their sewers, is there any way that Switzerland could turn their wastewater into wealth? Scientists are skeptical: "The recovery of metals from wastewater or sludge is scarcely worthwhile at present, either financially or in terms of the amounts which could be extracted," the release explains.

However, in the southern canton of Ticino, which is home to several gold refineries, the "concentrations of gold in sewage sludge are sufficiently high for recovery to be potentially worthwhile," they conclude.

Switzerland is famous for its chocolate, watches, and mountains, but it's also home to major gold refineries. On average, around 70 percent of the world's gold passes through Switzerland every year—and judging from the looks of it, much of it goes down the drain. As for the sewer silver, it's a byproduct of the chemical and pharmaceutical industry, which is a cornerstone of Switzerland's economy.

[h/t Bloomberg]

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14 Things You Owned in the '70s That are Worth a Fortune Now
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From old toys and housewares to books and records, these pieces of '70s memorabilia have aged (and increased in value) like fine wine.


A vintage ringwraith toy from Lord of the Rings by Knickerbocker toys, still on the yellow blister pack.

eBay user butamaru999

Peter Jackson wasn’t the first one to take a crack at J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy. In 1978, Ralph Bakshi directed an animated version with the voices of John Hurt, William Squire, and Anthony Daniels, among others. There was a toy promotion to go along with the movie, of course, and though the action figures look a little cheap by today’s standards, they’re anything but. According to eBay, a complete set can sell for up to $17,000.


Photo of David Bowie

Check your old vinyl! In 1974, David Bowie released the Diamond Dogs LP, which featured artwork of a cartoonish Bowie-dog. The top half of the creature was Bowie, while the bottom half was all canine—including its genitals. Right before the album was released, RCA decided to avoid controversy and had the artwork retouched to remove the offending parts. However, some enterprising employees were able to snag some of the originals, and in 2003, one of them sold for $3550.


Luke Skywalker action figure still in the Kenner packaging from the 1970s.

OK, you probably didn’t own this exact Luke Skywalker action figure with double-telescoping lightsaber when you were a kid, because there are only 20 known toys in existence. If you are one of the lucky few, though, get thyself to Sotheby’s: In 2015, this 1978 Kenner toy sold for a whopping $25,000.

Even if you don’t own this ultra-rare figure, don’t despair: Your old Star Wars toys could still be worth hundreds—or even thousands—of dollars.


The Sex Pistols
Graham Wood/Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The infamously offensive Sex Pistols signed to A&M Records in 1977—and were dropped by the label exactly six days later for proving to be just too much to handle. But in those six days, 25,000 copies of the band’s “God Save the Queen” single had already been pressed. Just nine copies have surfaced over the years, making the rare records worth a pretty penny: In 2003, a copy with the paper sleeve sold for £13,000 (about $17,600).


Walk Lively Steffie doll

Image courtesy of bklyngrl44 on eBay

Remember Barbie’s friend from the 1970s, Steffie? Not many people do—which may be why a mint condition Walk Lively Steffie doll that's still in its box can be worth nearly $800.


A copy of The Garden of Abdul Gasazi

Your book collection provides you with hours of entertainment, and can also be a great source of extra income. A first edition of The Garden of Abdul Gasazi, a 1979 children’s book by Chris Van Allsburg, is worth nearly $1000 (if it's in “Fine” condition). If you have a collection of Van Allsburg first editions, by the way, you’re doing well: A first edition of Jumanji from 1981 is worth hundreds, if not thousands, and a signed first edition of The Polar Express from 1985 is worth $2500.


The green, floral, leafy cover of the first edition of One Hundred Years of Solitude.
Image courtesy of cnos.mich on eBay

Who knew an exclamation point was worth so much? In some early copies of Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, the first paragraph of the dust jacket blurb featured an exclamation point instead of a period. That little mistake makes a first edition with the exclamation point worth $740. (Even the version with the intended period is worth some cash, though—about $400.)


Star Wars Comic Book
Image courtesy of heisman1944 via eBay

Here’s a riddle for you: When is five cents worth $7500? Answer: When rare Star Wars memorabilia is involved. When the first issue of the Star Wars comic book was released in 1977, Marvel published about 1500 limited edition copies for 35 cents instead of the usual 30 cents. Spending that extra nickel 40 years ago is worth more than $7000 today—and there’s currently one on eBay being sold for more than $10,000.


A vintage Batman utility belt stilli n packaging, with plastic handcuffs, decoders, and watch.

This Remco Batman Utility Belt from the 1970s came with all of the bells and whistles: a communicator, decoder glasses, a toy watch, handcuffs, a Gotham City decoder map, a secret identity card, and a secret message, among other things. Not only is it cool, that’s a lot of little pieces to keep track of, so you can see why a complete set in decent condition sells for more than $3000.


Image courtesy of tobor1010 via eBay

To commemorate the 1972 Olympics in Munich, PEZ released the “Alpine Man” Pez Dispenser. There were two variants—a mustachioed figure in a green Alpine hat and a clean-shaven one wearing a brown cap. The green hat can be worth up to $3000; the brown one is worth “considerably more,” but is apparently so extremely rare that no pricing seems to actually exist.


Tom Simpson, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The Mego company doesn’t produce action figures anymore—it went bankrupt in 1982—but for a decade, it was considered “The World’s Greatest Action Figure Company.” Many of their figures are worth a nice chunk of change today, but the original Robin the Boy Wonder figure from 1973 takes the cake. The first version came with a removable mask, while later versions came with the mask painted on. As you might imagine, that teeny little piece of cloth was often lost by the kids who played with the toy, so finding a Robin in good condition with the mask is pretty rare; one sold for $7357.


A car topped with boxes of IKEA furniture

IKEA has become known for their affordable furniture and housewares, but certain vintage pieces will set you back a bit more than a $9.99 LACK table. Today, a teak bookshelf and cabinet combo from the 1970s can fetch up to $3000—surely a good return on investment.


A green Pyrex mixing bowl with red ribbons and holly on it, sitting on top of three pyrex collecting books.

Image courtesy of qualityqueen62 via eBay

Your parents and grandparents shouldn't have passed those Pyrex dishes down—they're worth a lot of dough these days. Whole sets of certain patterns or colors can go for thousands of dollars, but even single bowls can fetch hundreds, like the above Christmas bowl from the early '70s, which is going for $370 on eBay.


They’re creepy and they’re kooky ... and they’re worth a lot of money. This metal lunchbox by King Seeley depicts the cartoon version of everyone’s favorite ooky sitcom family. A good-condition set containing the lunchbox and matching thermos can be worth up to $325.


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