Sometimes a Treat Doesn’t Look Like a Treat.

I embrace treats but I’m also very wary of treats. Treats help us feel energized, appreciated, and enthusiastic–but very often, the things we choose as “treats” aren’t good for us. The pleasure lasts a minute, but then feelings of guilt, loss of control, and other negative consequences just deepen the lousiness of the day. An extra glass of wine, an extra brownie, an impulse purchase…

As I’ve thought more about treats, and tried to lengthen my list of healthy treats, I’ve been surprised to realize that many treats don’t look like treats.

Someone was telling me the other day that she loves to do laundry. Go figure. Someone else told me that he loves to make travel arrangements.

It dawned on me yesterday that one of my unconventional treats is clearing clutter. Some kind of clutter is difficult–letting go of things with sentimental value, sifting through papers–but some clutter I find very refreshing to clear.

I found myself looking forward to tackling an overlooked closet. What fun to toss, recycle, give away, and see some open space emerge from that crowded closet. I could hardly wait to get in there.

Again, I realize the importance of the Fifth Splendid Truth about happiness: I can build a happy life only on the foundation of my own nature. Which means that I must recognize the truth about myself. Be Gretchen! And go clear some closets.

How about you? Do you have any treats that most people wouldn’t consider a treat?

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  • Meghan Holland Jansen

    I realized this about myself over the weekend. There has been a lot of extra work stress right now, and when I finally had a free evening I spent it helping my son organize his toys and it was almost therapeutic. I’m sure others would think I’m crazy!

    • Stella

      Not crazy, I do that too!

  • Kate

    When I was not quite 4 years old, my mother realized she hadn’t heard a peep out of me in quite a while and went to investigate.
    She found me taking shirt boxes and stickers and ‘labeling’ the boxes with stickers (I couldn’t write yet) and sorting all my small toys by type and arranging the boxes on some shelves.
    I can remember, to this day, so clearly how absorbed and stimulated yet peaceful I felt and totally unaware of the passage of time until my mom walked in. It was my first experience of what is now called ‘flow.’

    So not a surprise that I still like to sort and organize and put things away.
    I also get a big kick out of using those nasty but fascinating nose strips!

  • Lou

    I love this!!!!!! I find that my treats RARELY look like treats to other people (paying bills, organizing files on my computer, organizing my finances, house projects, etc). It would be interesting to analyze happy couples’ treats and how they compare – do they have the same treats or different?

  • Untangling knots. There’s just something so therapeutic about taking a big mess of yarn (or whatever) and slowly opening up the mess of knots.

    • Lou

      Oooh I love it because I don’t love it. If that makes sense. I HATE untangling knots. I love thinking it could be a treat for someone out there though.

  • Laura

    I recently took the day off work on my birthday and found myself cleaning out my refrigerator! Something I normally don’t have time to do so it was a “treat” for me.

  • love cleaning things out and getting rid of things too!

  • jen

    i love organizing .give me a room that needs to be organized,or a closet or a drawer and i am happy as a clam.

  • lwegmann

    I love my family, but I look forward to Monday mornings. My husband goes to work, the girls go to school, and I get to de-clutter the house. I sort and file papers, load the dishwasher, hang up clothes, and clean off the counters. It’s relaxing, and I get to organize my mind as I organize my house. Such a nice way to start the week.

    • Suse

      I like that you say “I get to..” and not “I have to..” it even makes it sound like tidying up is a treat 🙂

    • Reneé Marie Fox

      Mondays are my treat too.

  • peninith1

    I am a quilter and have several of my own making for my bedroom. I love making my bed and seeing my own handiwork–and I love changing the bed each week and using a different quilt. I recently had my bedroom painted a soft very neutral ‘honeysuckle’ color so that every quilt looks ‘just right’. So making my bed is a treat for me and going into my room and seeing its look of the week is a treat every time.

  • Alice

    Oh my goodness! I love this! I love all sorts of strange things which are unconventional treats! What a good idea!

  • Felicity

    I like cleaning the kitchen after a meal. Instant results! And I love the warm washing up water on my cold (gloved) hands.

    • Same here (most of the time). I consider hand washing the dishes to be water play or water therapy. And then waking up in the morning to a nice clean kitchen seems to get the day off on the right foot.

  • Petina

    Give me a weed choked, messy patch of garden for a few hours and I am at my happiest. i love to work at slowly making the garden beautiful and finally stepping back to look at the results. So satisfying. My idea of heaven is like “The Secret Garden” by Frances Hodgson Burnett.

  • Sadye

    Definitely cleaning the apartment! Oh, how I love the sight of a toothpaste-free mirror.

  • TJ

    One day I bought two big containers full of buttons for an art project I thought I would do. All kinds of buttons. I never got around to the art project, but LOVED sorting the buttons into different piles. I could sort things for hours…

  • pdxholly

    New sheets on the bed! Treat myself to a night of great sleep.

    • Unearth My Muse

      Definitely! I love having clean sheets on the bed … especially if I get to climb between them when I, too, am clean. 🙂

  • Heidi

    Programming computers. It’s not nearly as useful (in my case, as a SAHM) as laundry or clearing out closets, but I do think it’s fun.

  • stlgrannie

    It’s a treat to read about the treats of others! I love getting rid of stuff, and now I know that I’m not the only one.

  • remotegate

    Nice article thanks for sharing with me.
    Gate Opener

  • nielmalan

    Sorting things. Because I’m a man, I tend to do it with things like nuts and bolts, but I’d be just as happy sorting a jar of buttons. Untangling cables, that sort of thing.

  • MimiManderly

    Even though I’m only “meh” about the weekly cleaning, which is done simply because we like living in a clean, tidy home, I love to do the BIG cleaning — like spring or fall cleaning, or the cleaning that must accompany painting the rooms. I like taking everything out that CAN be taken out, giving everything a wash (yes, even washing the windows is enjoyable!) and then (this is the part I REALLY enjoy) only putting back that which I love. If I don’t love it, and it doesn’t serve a useful purpose, I recycle it. Then I keep watch in my travels while going to yard sales and resale shops to look for anything I’ve noticed that I DO need. I am progressively training myself to only buy what I love and need, not buying simply because it’s a bargain, or that it ALMOST fills my need and I can make do with it until a better one comes along.

  • I am with Petina. Nothing excites or soothes or grounds me as much as pulling those weeds and planning the annual flower gardens. I could spend all day, several days in a row lost in the dreaming, doing and enjoying of my gardens. It is odd that I also enjoy really deep cleaning, esp. if I have days and days alone in the house while my hubby is away on business. I play my favorite music or radio shows, sometimes I dance around, and when the day is over and I am exhausted, I love just sitting on a couch or chair and surveying the orderliness and take in the fragrance of cleanliness, too.

  • cruella

    Naw, I prefer treats that look like treats: an evening swim in my nearby lake, a brisk walk with a podcast in my ears, a long soak with a good magazine… I enjoy a clean house and from time to time I have a sense of flow when organizing or simply getting down to stuff long overdue. But treats – no.

  • Sharon

    I’ve always enjoyed cleaning bathrooms! It stinks and gross, especially having to clean public bathrooms. I’ve worked at Starbucks for 13 years, but always volunteered to do the dirty work. Now that I own my own home, I can turn up the radio and get scrubbing! Crazy, huh?

  • Maggie Olson

    Running! I looove to run. Getting up at 5:15 and heading straight out to the forest preserve is better than a donut for me (though I’m not above having the occasional donut afterward).

    I also find it extremely gratifying to cook/make meals. Especially healthy ones. A big giant salad is so yummy and rewarding, and all that chopping is very therapeutic!

    Ditto the clutter. Just got rid of two bags of books, two laundry baskets of clothes, and two boxes of other items. I feel freeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee.

  • LizCat

    So fun to read these replies. I’m far from a tidy person (wish I were), but strangely, I enjoy switching the kids’ clothes over each season. I get a lot of passed-on clothes that I don’t look at until it’s time to do the switchover, so with three kids, it’s a pretty big job. But for some reason I enjoy the sorting and organizing and making donation bags, even though I’m hopeless at those tasks in most areas of my life!

  • I like cleaning out my purse and the car. The end result is great, but you also never know what you might find in the process!

    • Caroline Donahue

      Yes! I loved the scene in Amelie where it shows that the mother loved to take everything out of her purse, clean it out, and then put everything back in again, all organized and the father was the same with his tool box. I was happy just watching, and wanted to re-organize my purse as soon as I got out of the theater!

  • pavinee

    These are so fun and interesting. I like taking out books from shelves intending to get rid of some old unread books but always end up putting most of them back on shelves. Very tiring as I have so many books and some are very thick and heavy. But always enjoy browsing all those books 🙂

  • Ash

    Washing the dishes is my special treat. Specifically I like to organize how they go in the drying rack, which partially dictates the order in which I was the dishes. Definitely enjoy that puzzle that presents.

  • Marci

    Who ARE you people?! 🙂 Please come to my house and clean and organize. I do it, but I don’t find joy in it. Until I am done, anyway. Bless you, all. The world is a neater, more sane place because of you.

  • jennie

    I have 2 treats I love: reading a gook book and working on my happiness project and Happier @ Home project. I am constantly re-reading these books – they center me and I always learn something new about myself

    • gretchenrubin

      Awww, that’s so nice to hear!

  • Jen

    Ironing! I love taking wrinkled clothing and making it smooth and neat. I don’t always have time for it, but when I do…ahhhh.

  • Unearth My Muse

    The end product. Even if I don’t feel that the “doing” is a treat, I definitely find having finished up whatever the project is to be a real treat!
    Also, writing, especially by hand; reading a good book (I agree with Jennie, I have re-read sections in The Happiness Project many times … every time I get in to check something out, I end up reading to the end of at least that chapter again); gathering good quotes, especially if I just happen upon them. There are (many) more, but that’s enough for now.

  • lulu240788

    I totally agree with you Gretchen. Love organizing!

  • Stephanie

    Surprising someone with a good deed who might be having a hard time. On Sunday I made my neighbor a pot roast and cream of brocolli soup (she loves brocolli) for her family because her father died a week ago and they had been busy with family business that I knew they hadn’t done much cooking or felt like it. They were so grateful and appreciative and proceeded to share it with a sick family member as well. It was a treat to me to hear her positive feedback about it that they were so comforted by it and enjoyed it. Came just it time. She said they had eaten the same thing 5 days in a row! Also, remembering and acknowledging difficult days for people I care about. For example, the date that my friend gave birth to and lost her son. Sometimes I send a card. Other times just call. Giving flowers to my 81 yr old neighbor friend on the 2
    year anniversary of losing her husband. It somehow replenishes me to nurture people on a difficult day that most people in their lives have forgotten about. Just being there for people when they really need a boost. Sounds crazy coming from an extreme introvert. What can I say? I love to perform acts of service for people, not necessarily spend hours together. Hope this makes sense. Sorry this was so long. 🙂

    • AG

      That’s really nice 🙂

    • peninith1

      “I love to perform acts of service for people, not necessarily spend hours together.” That is a very helpful perspective for me (also an introvert) — reminds me that I can be helpful without entangling myself in a lot of chat and ‘involvement’ and that’s a kind of love that lots of people really appreciate. Thanks very much.

  • Jill Brown

    I’m very neat & tidy and I love cleaning, sorting, tidying . . . I especially love doing the ironing on a Saturday evening! I’ve never thought of it as a treat before, but now I recognise it as one. It’s soothing and productive, I can watch TV at the same time (don’t have time for much TV during the week) and there’s the satisfaction of putting away the ironed clothes at the end. This is a time when I’m most myself and now I will value it as a special treat. Thank you, Gretchen!

  • Linda

    I see common themes emerging here that relate to one of my unusual “treats.” One theme I see is that doing something you’re good at brings joy, and the other is that of being focused on a task so as to bring order out of chaos. In my job as a legal secretary, I am often asked to make heavy revisions to a 50-page brief, and nothing makes me happier! I get to focus in on taking something messy (but brilliant) and turning it into a neat, shiny package to give back to the attorney, and it clearly reflects the design and order they had in mind in the first place. So in the end I’ve done something I’m good at and enjoy doing, and I’ve taken something chaotic and turned it into something orderly.
    I have other thoughts on how it’s good to know how, at home and in family life, to drop those perfectionistic tendencies that make us good at what we do and for which we are compensated. But that’s for another post!

    • gretchenrubin

      This is a very astute point. I hadn’t noticed that pattern, and it’s very helpful.
      When we think of a typical “treat” we think of self-indulgence and a slight breaking of rules (or at least that‘s what first comes to my mind), and these categories are far from that.
      Another category that I’ve seen people mention at other times fit into the “work your brain” – as one reader commented, HTML, Latin translation, Words with Friends.

  • Judy

    I also love to put things in order and to declutter. So my treat is to do a Sudoku or play solitaire on the computer because it is putting things in order and where they belong just for fun.

  • Marjorie

    Paying bills. That’s not to say I relish getting them, but I really like sitting down to pay them – especially now that it’s all online. And I liked doing it back when I had to write checks. I wish I liked cleaning as so many others seem to. Any advice on making that happen would be greatly appreciated!!

  • Caroline Donahue

    I love going through my budgets on Mint. I love looking at my progress toward goals, getting really clear about what I have in each account, and making plans about how I want to use my money going forward. I find this so reassuring, and for a long time I didn’t know that this was a treat- in fact I was so scared to look at statements I sometimes avoided them.

    Perhaps this is a commandment of mine- just because I haven’t found a way to love something now, doesn’t mean I won’t love it and find it to be a treat in the future. Same thing with running- used to hate it, now I love it.

  • Sara

    I like working in the garden. It’s peaceful, and relaxing, and I love the results, especially the edible ones!

  • Susievintage

    Doing my tax return – I love getting all the bits of paper out, drawing the grid to be filled in with the numbers, getting the magic number at the end of it – and the sense of satisfaction that it’s done for another year!

  • Suzanne Ford

    One of my biggest treats, and it has come with age, is being still. Others are jumping in with their opinions, and I just listen–even if there’s a lot I could say on the topic. What a secret delight, relief, joy! And when I come home after a full day of running my business, I sit myself down, and just become…still. It is in those moments that a special realization dawns: my life feels good to me. Just because. I dont have to do anything to feel good. And it’s supposed to feel good, it’s ok to celebrate feeling deeply, spiritually happy.

  • TekMaestro

    I used to love cutting my yard, or maybe I should say manicuring my lawn. I used to look forward to getting out my mower, weed-eater, blower, and edger, checking the gas and oil in each, then beginning the task. I would begin with my weed-eater, getting all of the corners and borders that my mower would not be able to reach and cleaning them all up. Then I would start with my mower, moving from the borders inward. I loved the smell of fresh-cut grass (even though my allergies would act up), and I enjoyed making the ever-shrinking patterns that I would create following the contours of my yard. Once I finished with the mower, I would pull out the edger, going around both sides of the circular driveway and along the sidewalks and walkways and cutting those little edging grooves that made my yard look finished. Then would come the blower, which would clean everything up put it in piles ready for bagging. Then comes the good part… taking my shower, putting on my lounging shorts and t-shirt, and taking a tall glass of iced tea onto my sun porch and surveying my handiwork. I am a terrible procrastinator in my daily life, but doing my grass on Saturdays gave me such a feeling of satisfaction that I cannot describe.

    I have used the past tense because I am going through an ugly divorce, so my home is no longer mine, but is inhabited by my wife. I do miss doing my yard, though.

  • Marissa Haddock

    I love assembling furniture or other new purchases that need to be assembled! I always jump at the chance.

  • KarenSwim

    Very well said Gretchen! As I read this it occurred to me that our definition of treat would really seem to align with where we are on our happiness journey. I consider my workouts a treat, a life affirming gift.