However, buying something that reminds you of your setback can make you feel worse, according to Monika Lisjak, an assistant professor at Arizona State University in US, who studied several hundred university students.

"What we know from a lot of research is that people do engage in 'compensatory consumption,' which is often referred to as 'retail therapy'", Lisjak said.

It happens when people feel discomfort because they see a discrepancy between how competent they are and how competent they wish to be.

Buying something to improve your competence is called 'within-domain compensation', and it can backfire, she said. So if you go shopping to feel better after a failed project, and buy a book on how to create a perfect project, it could just remind you over and over of how poorly you did, she said.

That rumination can drain energy, and the study found that people in that state were more likely to have low self-control (expressed by eating candies) and were less likely to do well on tasks (solving math problems).

The study was published in the Journal of Consumer Research.

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