Gretchen Rubin

The Happiness Project

Why You Must Give Yourself Treats

A strategy of treating yourself could lead to the change you want to achieve.

Posted Nov 25, 2014

Michal Plachy/Shutterstock

“Treats” may sound like a self-indulgent, frivolous strategy, but it’s not: Forming good habits can be draining, and treats can play an important role. When we give ourselves treats, we feel energized, cared for, and contented, which boosts our self-command—and self-command helps us maintain healthy habits.

Studies show that people who got a little treat—receiving a surprise gift or watching a funny video—gained in self-control. It’s a Secret of Adulthood: If I give more to myself, I can ask more from myself. Self-regard isn’t selfish.

When we don’t get any treats, we begin to feel burned-out, depleted, and resentful.

The other day, a friend told me, “I don’t give myself any treats," which led me to two different lines of thought:

  • First, whether or not he gave himself treats, he thought of himself as "a person who doesn’t give myself treats.” In terms of habits, that seems risky to me. It might seem stoic, or selfless, or driven not to give yourself treats, but I’d argue against that assumption. When we don’t get any treats, we can start to feel deprived—a very bad frame of mind for good habits. When we feel deprived, we feel entitled to put ourselves back in balance. We say, “I’ve earned this,” “I need this,” or “I deserve this”, and feel entitled to break our good habits.

  • Second, I suspected that he actually did in fact give himself treats; he just didn’t think of them as treats. Indeed, after a couple of minutes of questioning, he came up with a great example: Every week, he buys new music.

For something to be a treat, we have to think of it as a treat; and then we make something a treat by calling it a “treat.” When we notice our pleasure, and relish it, the experience becomes much more of a treat. Even something as humble as herbal tea or a box of freshly sharpened pencils can qualify as a treat. For instance, once I realized how much I love beautiful smells, a whole new world of treats opened up to me.

We should all strive to have a big menu of healthy treats, so that we can recharge our batteries frequently, and in healthy ways. Sometimes, treats don’t even look like treats. For example, to my surprise, many people consider ironing a “treat.” (To read other examples of people’s quirky treats, look here and here.)

Do you find that when you give yourself healthy treats, it’s easier to stick to your good habits? What healthy treats are on your list?

Also ... If you're interested in subjects such as human nature, happiness, research, and self-command, check out my friend Dr. Samantha Boardman's site, Positive Prescription. Lots of great info to read there—or, like me, you can sign up for the weekly newsletter to get it delivered to your inbox.

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Tags: habits, Strategy of Treats, treats