Can Ethical Shopping Make You Happier?

Sian Conway
It's almost the time of year again where shoppers flock to the streets and hit the internet to snap up a pre-Christmas bargain.

It's almost the time of year again where shoppers flock to the streets and hit the internet to snap up a pre-Christmas bargain. Although originally an American tradition, Black Friday is becoming increasingly popular in the UK with shoppers reportedly spending £2.9bn last year.

Black Friday is a time when retailers encourage us to bag a bargain - often shopping for things that we don't really need or want, with queues forming outside hours before the shops even open.

However, a survey by Traidcraft found that 54% of shoppers admitted to feeling stressed, anxious and even argumentative when doing their Christmas shopping, and 2 out of 3 said they would snatch the last item from the shelf, even if another shopper was reaching for it.

We've all indulged in a little "retail therapy" or payday treat from time to time, and there is a buzz in finding a bargain deal in the sales, but does shopping really make us happier?

A study published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology suggested that shopping can make us feel less sad. However, research into overconsumption by Greenpeace found that the buzz from shopping wears off quickly - usually within less than a day.

Shoppers are becoming increasingly aware of the environmental and ethical impact of their purchases too. A report by Ethical Consumer found that 53% of the UK population are choosing to avoid buying products and/or services over "concerns about ethical reputation."

The buzz of buying new clothes or makeup can quickly wear off when you realise that sweatshops, child labour or animal testing are behind your bargain buy, and over-consumption can have a negative impact on the environment too.

Electrical goods and clothing are two of the most purchased things on Black Friday, and yet DEFRA have reported that 350,000 tonnes of clothing going to landfill each year and electrical and electronic equipment is the fastest growing waste stream in the UK.

Mass consumption is affecting the planet and the people that produce these items, with factory workers in developing countries often working long hours in unsafe conditions for very little wages.

Luckily, social enterprises and ethical businesses around the world are trading to deliver on social or environmental missions with the aim of making a positive impact with their profit and reducing the negative impact of mass consumption, environmental damage and labour abuses.

Ethical businesses are changing people's lives, improving communities and protecting the environment. According to Social Enterprise UK, there are nearly 80,000 social enterprises in the UK, employing over a million people and contributing more than £24 billion to the UK economy.

Shopping might make us temporarily happier, but the negative impact of overconsumption isn't worth the quick thrill from a bit of unnecessary retail therapy - and consumers are starting to realise that.

However, researchers found that people who spend a higher proportion of their income on gifts for others and donations to charity, compared to personal spending, reported themselves as happier in a survey.

Studies have also found that when we give to charity the midbrain region responsible for pleasure rewards actually lights up. and that when you give to specific charitable projects where you can see a tangible impact you feel happier.

The social enterprise business model is built around making a real, tangible impact on specific environmental or social goals by reinvesting profits. By purchasing from social enterprises and ethical businesses you can satisfy your shopping cravings safe in the knowledge that the people who made your product were treated fairly and that any negative environmental impact has been kept to a minimum wherever possible. Plus you'll also have the positive feeling of contributing to their social impact and helping them make a difference, which according to scientists makes us happier for longer than bagging a quick bargain in the sales.