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Published: Apr 27, 2023 4 min read
Illustration of a happy ice cream cone surrounded by clothing and coffee beans
Rangely García for Money

When people get dumped or are feeling down, you might think that’s when they’re most likely to splurge on a pint of ice cream — perhaps for a crying session on the couch. But new research shows people are far more likely to treat themselves to ice cream or other little luxuries when their mental health is on the up and up.

The phrases “retail therapy” and “comfort buying” have caught on in recent years to refer to the phenomena of splurging to cheer ourselves up when we’re feeling blue. Some research shows indulging in a little retail therapy can, indeed, make us temporarily feel better by giving us a quick hit of dopamine.

However, a new study from The Conference Board flips that notion on its head. It suggests we’re more likely to splurge when we’re already feeling mentally and physically healthy. That seems to hold up even if our finances aren’t in a great spot.

The opposite also appears true: We’re actually much less likely to treat ourselves to ice cream, a new outfit or a massage when our physical or mental health are on the decline than if they're improving, according to the study.