As I write this, I’m sipping an oat cappuccino. It’s a recent upgrade I’ve made from the juvenile oat latte. I dip in my fluffy, overpriced croissant bought from the bougie bakery next door. I do this even though I have coffee waiting for me in my kitchen and supermarket croissants waiting for me in my freezer. I close my eyes and feel euphoric bliss. Then I feel a twinge of residual shame.
You see, one of my new year’s resolutions was to stop this sort of thing. To follow some loosely defined set of rules to 'get healthy' and 'spend less'. These two resolutions should preclude my extremely frequent habit of getting a mid-morning coffee and pastry.
I’d like to say I entered the year trying but I’d be lying to you. By 11am on 1st January, I was already balancing mine and my partner’s iced coffees on top of each other as I scrambled to get in the door. This was because, with the first light of 2023, I realised that there is but one pure joy left in this life (besides a sense of meaningful purpose and true friendships and all that sincere stuff): the joy of the little treat.
It doesn't have to be a coffee and pastry, or even something edible (though it often is). It could be picking up a cheap bunch of flowers, treating yourself when you see a 99-cent book on Kindle or adding to your collection of silly little stickers. Whatever it is, I believe that, especially in 2023, we’re all entitled to our useless little treats.
Craving indulgence in times of hardship is no new phenomenon. As Imogen West-Knights reported in an article last year, an increase in "treat-brain behaviour" since the beginning of the pandemic was driven by the ease of succumbing to pleasure-seeking behaviour, a blurring of the line between wants and needs, and our desire for distraction from hardship.
We’re still, assuredly, in times of hardship. Daily life feels like spinning a 'pick your crisis' wheel in a Black Mirror episode. The world is either burning or flooding around us and the ongoing pandemic is still disabling people – to say the past few years have been a lot is an understatement. On top of all of that, we’re all exhausted. For many of us, the festive period wrung us dry both financially and emotionally, if you’re the type of person who, like me, finds enforced fun a little bit tiring.
As we go into 2023, depriving ourselves of the little things we can afford that make us feel just a little bit better seems unnecessary and really quite silly. Why would you want to make these hard times even more miserable by eliminating that rush of happiness you get from a bite of chocolate or from watching four episodes of Emily in Paris in one day?
You shouldn’t feel bad about it, either, as you’re not alone. The so-called lipstick index is the theory that in periods of economic downturn, sales of affordable luxuries such as chocolates, books and cosmetics go up. Though people tighten their purse strings under the strain, they allow themselves these smaller pleasures as a way to cling onto comfort and, perhaps, to subconsciously indicate to others their social status in coping with the crisis.
There is a political and philosophical stance that we shouldn’t numb the pain caused by late-stage capitalism with the very commodities that fuel this capitalism. Then there's the issue that capitalist notions of self-care distract us from effecting change to the current structures – avocado toast as the opiate of the masses, and all that (I’m sure Marx would’ve loved that analogy).
To this I say: you can give yourself a break, even if it’s just a little one. You can keep fighting the good fight – supporting strikes, building community and mutual aid networks, partaking in oppositional politics when the chance arises – but your beloved little treats don’t have to be martyrs to these righteous causes.
So, in dedication to the cause, I’m going to stick to my other resolutions that don’t deprive me of the small luxuries I know I’m allowed: 1) learn to lift weights, 2) start journalling more, 3) nurture new friendships and, finally, 4) do something fun on my own once a week. You’d be right in thinking that something fun might very well include an oat cappuccino and a fresh croissant.