Tag Archives: indulgence

In Your Life, Has a Sweet Thing Become Bitter, by Excess?

“The sweetest things become the most bitter by excess.”

–Democritus

This line resonates with me, because one of my Secrets of Adulthood is “Every medicine can turn to poison.

For instance, for most people, sugar itself becomes bitter (figuratively) when consumed in excess. Also Facebook, discipline, caffeine, spending and saving, TV…and habits, of course.

Is  there any sweet thing in your life that has become bitter? Some medicine that has transformed to poison?

What Are Your Treats? Do You Have Any That Don’t Look Like Treats?

I’ve asked this question before, but I’m asking again, because I find it so fascinating: Do you have any “treats” that don’t look like treats? What are your treats?

In my forthcoming book, Before and After, about how we make and break habits — really — I identify a bunch of strategies we can use to change our habits. Perhaps the most delightful one is the Strategy of Treats. (To be notified when the book is available for pre-order, sign up here.)

What exactly counts as a “treat?” A treat is different from a reward, which must be justified or earned. A treat is a small pleasure or indulgence that we give to ourselves just because we want it.

Treats give us greater vitality, which boosts self-control, which helps us maintain our healthy habits. When we give ourselves treats, we feel energized, cared for, and contented, which in turn boosts self-command. When we don’t get any treats, we feel depleted, resentful, and angry, and we feel justified in self-indulgence. We start to crave comfort—and  grab that comfort wherever we can, even if it means breaking good habits. “I deserve this, I’ve earned this, I need this”…Loophole-Seeking!

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 drive my daughters nuts because I’m always wandering into their rooms to clear clutter.  (It’s a lot easier to clear other people’s clutter than my own clutter.)

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? What are your treats?

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Question: What Small Treats Do You Give Yourself?

By some odd coincidence, two readers emailed me to ask for the link to this post, an Assay about “small treats,” so I decided to re-post it today:

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the importance of small treats, small pleasures. They’re fun to experience, of course, and I think they also have a very important role to play in happiness.

When we feel depleted and drained, and when we have no time or energy devoted to the things that give us pleasure, we start to feel exhausted, resentful, and angry. “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”

But it can be surprisingly hard to think of what little treats you want to give yourself. So many pleasures come at a cost: cookies cost calories, movies and books take time and focus, a museum costs the price of a ticket. It’s good to have a list of treats and pleasures that have a very low cost in time, energy, or money.

For instance, I’ve become obsessed with the sense of smell, and I love the fact that a good smell can be enjoyed in an instant, with no cost. My latest favorite “treat,” which I save for moments when I need a bit of extra comfort or reassurance, is the accord  “Hay” from CB I Hate Perfume. It’s a warm, sweet, summer smell…of hay. I only put it on as a special treat. (Of course, it did cost me something to buy it, but not too much, and never again.)

What small treats and pleasures have you found for yourself?  Be honest! Not things that you think you should consider a treat, or what you wish you considered a treat (you may or may not find going for a run to be a treat), but things that you actually do consider a treat. Even if these aren’t particularly estimable.

Here are some examples that struck my imagination: twinkle lights, audio-books, going to an amusement park, looking through art books, looking through old photo albums, eye drops, video games, people-watching.

I want to lengthen my own list. What would you add?

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