The fact that I like to buy inessential things to make myself feel better is neither a secret nor something I’m particularly proud of. And I know I’m not alone. For every late-night eBay bid or marginally discounted Margiela sweater I buy, there must be other like-minded people doing the same. How else do you explain the abundance of online shopping sites and the popularity of Joan Rivers’ QVC jewellery line: People will buy anything, particularly things they don’t need.
The truth is, we are a culture built on a reward system and our instinctive pursuit of pleasure can often lead us astray. We will rationalize anything into an excuse to indulge in whatever it is that makes us feel temporarily satiated. David J. Linden thoughtfully explores this idea in his book, The Compass of Pleasure, which details how easily our little indulgences can become compulsions.
Whether it’s weight gain or overspending, it’s becoming alarmingly clear that this “treat yourself” mentality is not just getting me in trouble, it’s affecting everyone. I now live in California where almost a quarter of the state is considered obese, and in 2010 saw 115,000 bankruptcy filings. I can’t turn on the TV without some fast food commercial encouraging one to “treat yourself to a triple-patty deluxe” or a car dealership promoting “no money down.” Our reliance, or dare I say dependence, on rewarding ourselves has become such a part of our cultural day-to-day that big business has figured us out. Or perhaps they’re the ones to blame in the first place?
When I feel like treating myself I’ll either turn to food or clothes. Bad food. Expensive clothes. Ironically, I’m usually rewarding myself for a solid week of healthy eating or a nice paycheque. It’s that contradictory treat-yourself-by-setting-yourself-back type mentality that I feel is at the root of not just my problem but also the problem.
Maybe it’s having grown up a bit, maybe it’s the fact that I have to take my shirt off at pool parties far more often than when I was living on the East Coast, but I’ve started to realize that treating myself should be a constructive act. Something that betters my body, mind and bank account instead of some sort of temporary fix that leaves me feeling either bloated or broke.
As a compulsive online shopper-slash-eater I’ve spent years thoughtlessly indulging whenever the times were good or bad. While those whims can be justified in small doses, I can say with much certainty that my six-pack wouldn’t be permanently hibernating had I opted to invest in a gym membership instead of perpetually aggravating my lactose intolerance. Couldn’t we all admit to this in some form or another?
I will never have the willpower to completely swear off pizza or a good summer sale, but I’m working on realizing the difference between the occasional craving and the compulsion to mindlessly consume as a feeble means of self-medication. And therein lies the biggest treat of all: time. Allowing myself the time to not make snap decisions. Rewarding my hard work with a clear moment to think about what it is that will really make me happy. How often do we allow ourselves that kind of time? Go ahead, give it a thought, treat yourself.