In my book Better Than Before, I describe the many strategies that we can use to change our habits. We all have our favorite strategies — but I think most of us would agree that the Strategy of Treats is the most fun strategy.
“Treats” may sound like a self-indulgent, frivolous strategy, but it’s not. Because forming good habits can be draining, 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 our healthy habits.
Studies show that people who got a little treat, in the form of 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. We start to feel deprived — and feeling deprived is 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,” “I deserve this” and feel entitled to break our good habits.
So we need treats.
But it's crucial to give ourselves healthy treats, because unhealthy treats are often bad for us. We don't want to give ourselves something to feel better that just makes us ending up feeling worse. Like a costly splurge, an extra glass of wine, a big brownie.
All of us should have a long list of potential healthy treats. That way, when we think, "I need a treat," we have ideas.
For something to be a treat, we have to think of it as a treat; 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. If I need a treat, I visit my "collection of smells" in my apartment or I stop by a perfume counter.
At the same time, it's important not to call something a "treat" if it's not really a treat. It may be good for you, and it may even feel good, but it's not a treat if you don't look forward to it with pleasure. So a yoga class could be a treat for someone, but it's not a treat for me. I do it, and I'm glad I do it, but I don't think, "Oh, yay, time for yoga!"
Sometimes, treats don’t look like treats. For example, to my surprise, many people consider ironing a “treat.”
Here are some other treats I've heard about:
- crossword puzzles
- looking at art books
- shopping at a very expensive store (no possibility of buying, so just enjoy looking)
- translating Latin
- breaking codes
- manicure (I never get manicures and dread them; the opposite of a treat for me)
- visiting camping stores
- online shopping (I heard from many people who enjoy online shopping with no plan to buy--they have fun filling their cart, then abandon it)
- choosing plants and seed for the garden
- video games and phone games
- getting a massage
taking a bath, especially if with special bath salts
buying yourself flowers
visiting a special place (a park, sculpture, or museum)
If you want to hear me and Elizabeth talk about why you should treat yourself, listen to this episode of the Happier podcast.
And if you want to hear Donna and Tom of Parks and Recreation talk about their annual Treat Yo' Self day, watch the hilarious clip here.