In my forthcoming book, Before and After, which is about how we make and break habits, I identify a bunch of strategies we can use to change our habits. Perhaps the most delightful one is the Strategy of Treats.
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” — it's loophole-seeking!
I embrace treats but I’m also very wary of them. They 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?