How do you ‘treat’ yourself?

I recently completed the Wild Rose Detox – well, almost ‘completed’: I was upset at myself for ending it early when, at a work function that I organized, I had to sit and gaze at a platter of assorted desserts for a couple of hours – desserts that would have otherwise gone to waste.  At first I was frustrated at myself for breaking my cleanse, then I justified that I ‘deserved’ it for being on the cleanse for over a week.  Then I realized that neither approach was particularly healthy – and that I should just NOT judge myself either way – because I want to just eat like I was on the cleanse into the long term anyhow, because it feels good.  But now and then, eating desserts also feels good.

By this time, many of us know what types of food are truly nutritious and healthy for us.  We know that any strict diet (aside from those that are necessary due to severe health issues) is probably too restrictive and that moderation (and occasionally indulging) is key.

I am in agreement with this line of thought, but when I started thinking of the word ‘treat’ in terms of a noun and a verb, and what we normally think of as a ‘treat’ the noun, it is not necessarily in line with the verb.  I began to realize that, in general, we learn to equate ‘treats’ (the noun) with a reward that brings (short-term) pleasure, and ‘work’ or ‘practice’ with a longer-term commitment or effort.  Why do we not consider those things that contribute more to our long-term happiness a treat? What if, instead of, say, a piece of candy as a ‘reward’ for good behavior, we actually were taught that the ‘good behavior’ in itself is the treat, because of what we are offering to the world via merely the act of being kind?  Or, instead of associating a ‘jog’ with ‘pain’, we could actually think of it as a ‘treat’ for our bodies, and in that just appreciate the 5- or 10 minute attempt, even if we walk the rest of the way, because we know that we are actually treating our bodies well, and that practicing this is the treat?

The thing about ‘treats’ is that they often are associated with unhealthy behaviors: consumerism, self-indulgence, distraction, hedonism, narcissism.  Many of us are conditioned to think that chocolate, candy, ice cream, drugs, sex, expensive clothes or gifts, money, etc. are some sort of reward for ‘working hard,’ but that they might be short-term escapes from an aspect of your life that is not satisfying, that you need a break from, that you need to forget about, that you are tired of.

Now, I am sure that everyone is different, and I am definitely not saying that we should never do these things (I love my vices), but I am suggesting that we re-examine what we are actually doing when we think we are treating ourselves, and where we were taught to believe that certain things make us feel better, when in the long-term (or even the shorter term) they might not.

At first I thought of this only in terms of food, but it is really about how we are brought up to think about and reflect on our actions.  It is about deeply rooted associations about how we ‘reward’ ourselves, or even what ‘work’ is, and how we perceive ourselves and our lives.  Those things that require practice, and effort, when they are healthy things, really should be the treat. I wish that I’d learned from an early age that each time we practice our talent, an act of giving, even a somewhat mundane task, that THAT is treating ourselves, because it is ultimately really making our lives better.  Even where we can’t see immmediate results, we should just intuitively know it when we are treating ourselves well (I think we do intuitively know it, but we often ignore this knowledge).

There is nothing wrong with doing what you love: an ice cream and a pedicure with a best girlfriend on a Saturday afternoon is a  wonderful thing to do. But I’ve found it interesting to investigate some things that I used to do to ‘treat’ myself and look at the bigger effect that they are having on my life: maybe some of these things aren’t the best things to do for myself at a given time.  And on the other side, many of the things that I have always considered ‘work’ or ‘chores’ are actually the things that would actually be more equated with treating myself well.

In the long run, what action or behavior truly allows you, your loved ones, your community, have a better day, or week, or life?  Sometimes it absolutely IS baking cookies for a neighbor, or buying an expensive gift for your wife.  But looking at the intention behind these actions – and how we feel about it – is possibly the real treat.  Perhaps looking at the friendship bond that can develop after a token of kindness is offered – maybe that is the treat.  Maybe, instead of sitting for 20 minutes in front of the TV and eating ice cream (your usual Friday night ‘treat’), it is actually more of a treat to take that long walk, practice your piano, or even get the dishes out of the way so that you can make breakfast a bit faster in the morning.  

So, how have you been treating yourself as this cold rainy winter sets in?