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The Surprising Benefits of Spoiling Yourself

5. It makes you more likely to help others.

Key points

  • Indulgence gets a bad rap, but there are scientific reasons to consider its benefits.
  • Indulgence can make you less impulsive (and eat less).
  • Indulgence can improve work engagement, pro-social behavior, and prioritizing friends.

Indulgence often gets a bad rap. Many people associate it with greed, selfishness, or guilt, and there are certainly contexts in which it can be just that—when it is associated with narcissism or entitlement1. But the word's etymology suggests that its root meaning should be more deeply considered.

Apart from its religious connotations, the word is derived from the Latin word “indulgere” meaning “to forgive” or “to be lenient toward”, suggesting that there is a gentler side to the word and how we might engage it2. Others believe that the word is derived from the Old French “indulgence” or directly from Latin “indulgentia” meaning "complaisance, a yielding; fondness, tenderness, affection.” Also, indulgence refers to the extent to which societies allow or promote the gratification related to natural human drives, enjoying life and having fun3.

When we think of indulgences, we may longingly think of food, luxury goods, or simply having time off. All these indulgences have a time and place in one’s life. After all, who doesn’t need forgiveness, lenience, fondness, tenderness, or affection? And how amazing that you can do this for yourself.

Why Do People Eschew Indulgence?

People may speak poorly of “indulgence” out of fear of religious misinterpretation within Catholicism when it replaces Confession4. Sometimes, when people indulge while others cannot, it is seen as an insensitivity that ignores socio-economic disparities. And for those who feel morally bound, indulgences are seen as excessive engagement that honors the basic human drives to a fault. All these complaints can guide those who wish to follow them. However, when you overcorrect on the absence of indulgence, you can fall prey to scarcity thinking, leading to a much smaller life than the one you are capable of living5.

Erring on the indulgent side has its plusses. Here are a few of them.

Why Indulge?

Enhanced well-being: A recent study indicated that people living in high-indulgence cultures have a greater degree of subjective well-being than those in restraint cultures6. Most importantly, the ability to savor the moment directly leads to higher subjective well-being and increases the likelihood that financial satisfaction will lead to greater life satisfaction and emotional well-being.

Prevention of internal conflicts and helps you eat less: When you get the dessert menu at a restaurant you might wonder whether to indulge or not. A recent study had findings that might surprise you7. Unrestrained eaters’ expectations of indulgent consumption increased or did not change their preference for a healthy option. Despite increasing concern for healthy eating, restrained consumers ironically prefer unhealthy food options when anticipating a dessert consumption opportunity. Restraint can work against you. In fact, another study demonstrated that when an indulgent (healthy) dish is the first item, lower-calorie dishes are subsequently chosen and overall caloric consumption is lower, unless the person is cognitively overwhelmed8.

Helps to reframe healthy behaviors: When you indulge, you can also indulge in behaviors that are good for you. Exercising and eating healthy foods can be indulgent rather than boring. You’re prioritizing your body and putting yourself first. One study showed that when people viewed healthy eating and exercising as indulgent, they were more likely to partake in them9.

Increased work engagement and recovery from stress: Then there’s the whole issue of buying things you don’t really need. If you don’t know this feeling, it may be time to get to know it. A recent study showed that unneeded consumption could increase your engagement at work. It can help you recover from stress, too10.

Increased pro-social behavior: People more prone to indulge are more likely to donate, volunteer, or help a stranger. They score high marks on the World Giving Index. Also, people are less likely to help a stranger when they are more long-term oriented. However, when people are high on the indulgence factor, they are more likely to help a stranger, even if they are oriented to the long-term11.

Helps you value friendship more: Prioritizing friendships is different for different people. But a recent study of 323,200 participants from 99 countries found that more indulgent people tend to prioritize friendships more. Also, prioritizing friends is associated with greater health and well-being12.

All in all, there’s a good balance to consider when indulging, but over this holiday season, give some thought to some of the advantages. It could change your life for the better.

Facebook image: Jacob Lund/Shutterstock


1. Thomassin K, Fay Wilson L, Vaughn-Coaxum R, Keith Campbell W, Zeichner A, Miller JD. Development and Validation of the Praise, Indulgence, and Status Parenting Scale. J Pers Assess. 2020;102(6):804-816. doi:10.1080/00223891.2019.1639187

2. Indulgence. In: Wikipedia. ; 2022. Accessed December 20, 2022.

3. Cavanaugh LA. Because I (Don’t) Deserve It: How Relationship Reminders and Deservingness Influence Consumer Indulgence. Journal of Marketing Research. 2014;51(2):218-232. doi:10.1509/jmr.12.0133

4. Peters E. A Modern Guide to Indulgences: Rediscovering This Often Misinterpreted Teaching. LiturgyTrainingPublications; 2008.

5. Research. Brené Brown. Accessed December 21, 2022.

6. Li B, Wang S, Cui X, Tang Z. Roles of Indulgence versus Restraint Culture and Ability to Savor the Moment in the Link between Income and Subjective Well-Being. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2022;19(12):6995. doi:10.3390/ijerph19126995

7. Oh GE (Grace). When dessert comes close: The effects of anticipating indulgent consumption and dietary restraint on healthy food preference at restaurants. Int J Hosp Manag. 2020;90:102614. doi:10.1016/j.ijhm.2020.102614

8. Flores D, Reimann M, Castaño R, Lopez A. If I indulge first, I will eat less overall: The unexpected interaction effect of indulgence and presentation order on consumption. J Exp Psychol Appl. 2019;25(2):162-176. doi:10.1037/xap0000210

9. Boles DZ, DeSousa M, Turnwald BP, et al. Can Exercising and Eating Healthy Be Fun and Indulgent Instead of Boring and Depriving? Targeting Mindsets About the Process of Engaging in Healthy Behaviors. Front Psychol. 2021;12:745950. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2021.745950

10. He J, Liu S, Li T, Mai THT. The Positive Effects of Unneeded Consumption Behaviour on Consumers during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2021;18(12):6404. doi:10.3390/ijerph18126404

11. Guo Q, Liu Z, Li X, Qiao X. Indulgence and Long Term Orientation Influence Prosocial Behavior at National Level. Front Psychol. 2018;9:1798. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2018.01798

12. Lu P, Oh J, Leahy KE, Chopik WJ. Friendship Importance Around the World: Links to Cultural Factors, Health, and Well-Being. Front Psychol. 2021;11:570839. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2020.570839

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