The Wall Street Journal’s Tanya Rivero invited Dr. Paul Zak, a neuroeconomist, on her Lunch Break program to explain why shopping makes people happy. It turns out that, according to his studies, it doesn’t. Zak and his colleagues at the Center for Neuroeconomics Studies — “We measure brain activity while people make decisions involving money and other people,” Zak explained — studied people shopping, with some shoppers receiving a surprise award at checkout, either $40 cash or a gift of handmade chocolate.
The people who got the cash experienced an immediate and lasting jolt of oxytocin, the love and connection hormone in the brain. But doesn’t shopping produce feelings of happiness by itself?
“Surprisingly not, actually,” Zak explained. “It was stressful when you shopped, you had a budget you had to meet, you’re shopping under time pressure, and it wasn’t really fun.” What about the shoppers given candy? “Chocolate was OK, people kind of liked it,” Zak said, “but money beats chocolate.”