Happiness Myth No. 5: A “Treat” Will Cheer You Up.

On Fridays, I usually propose a resolution for you to consider for your own happiness project, but I’m breaking the pattern to post for two weeks about “happiness myths.” Yesterday I wrote about Myth #4: You’ll Be Happier If You Insist on “The Best.”

Hapiness Myth No. 5: A “Treat” Will Cheer You Up. Often, not!

It depends on what you choose. Treating yourself to a long walk in the park, say, is a good idea – but the things we choose as “treats” frequently aren’t good for us. When you’re feeling blue or overwhelmed, it’s tempting to try to pick yourself up by indulging in a guilty pleasure, but unfortunately, the pleasure lasts a minute, and then feelings of guilt, loss of control, and other negative consequences just deepen the blues.

So when you find yourself thinking, “I’ll feel better after I have a few glasses of wine…some ice cream…just one cigarette…a new pair of jeans,” ask yourself – will it REALLY make you feel better? Or is it likely to make you feel worse, in the long run?

For example, I realized that one of my personal “treats” is the decision not to pick up after myself. Instead of trying to tidy as I go, as I usually do, I let small tasks mount up. “I can’t possibly be expected to hang up my coat, or put the newspapers in the recycling bin, or unload the dishwasher,” I tell myself. “I’m too busy/too frazzled/too upset/too rushed. I deserve a break.”

The problem is that, in the end, the mess makes me feel worse. Maybe I enjoy a tiny buzz from flinging my coat onto the floor, but the disorder just makes my bad mood deepen. (Plus it’s not nice for anyone else, either.) On the other hand, serene, orderly surroundings make me feel better. Outer order brings inner calm.

Now, instead of “treating” myself to a mess, I make a special effort to keep things tidy when I’m feeling low. Same with my other guilty pleasures, like skipping going to the gym, eating fake food, not picking up phone messages…although skipping a little duty feels like a “treat” for a minute, actually, I cheer myself up more by doing the things I know I ought to do.

The warning signs: whenever I tell myself things like, “I deserve this,” “I need this,” or “Today I shouldn’t have to stick to my usual resolutions,” that’s a signal that I’m trying to justify a pernicious “treat.”

How about you? Do you ever “treat” yourself to things that, in the end, just make you feel worse? Or have you found good treats, that actually make you feel better?

I love watching interviews of interesting people, and I was thrilled to discover Obsessed, a new, sophisticated site that features interviews with fascinating guests (e.g., Lisa Stone, Mark Bittman, Peter Greenberg) in conversation with host Samantha Ettus.

Interested in starting your own happiness project? If you’d like to take a look at my personal Resolutions Chart, for inspiration, just email me at grubin, then the “at” sign, then gretchenrubin dot com. (Sorry about writing it in that roundabout way; I’m trying to thwart spammers.) Just write “Resolutions Chart” in the subject line.

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  • WOW! I so do stuff like that. I chose happiness for the long haul!

  • Jane

    This article rings true to me because my “treat” to myself is often just that… not doing the dishes before going to bed, not hanging a coat up or straightening the living space. I deserve it because I had a tough day, am really tired. But when that stretches on for a few days because my life has become hectic (I have five kids, a part time job and several volunteer positions) things get out of control and everyone suffers. I then need to spend an entire day getting things back in to order instead of the few minutes a day. I’d like to combat this one!

  • Anon

    I am totally guilty of ‘treating’ myself and then ending up regretting it. I do it with many things, for example, eating another packet of crisps when i know i ought to go to the gym. Or watching another episode of my favourite TV programme when I know I should be revising for my exams. I tell myself to stop but its incredibly difficult. I think the root of my problem might be because I don’t leave any spare time where I can enjoy myself. Im in my last year of school and my parents have become stricter than ever and have banned me from any of the activities that I use to relax. Instead I’ve resorted to things that don’t truly make me feel happy. This is one problem I don’t think i’vv ever be able to solve. All I can do is sit tight and wait.