Question: What Small Treats Do You Give Yourself?

By some odd coincidence, two readers emailed me to ask for the link to this post, an Assay about “small treats,” so I decided to re-post it today:

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the importance of small treats, small pleasures. They’re fun to experience, of course, and I think they also have a very important role to play in happiness.

When we feel depleted and drained, and when we have no time or energy devoted to the things that give us pleasure, we start to feel exhausted, resentful, and angry. “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”

But it can be surprisingly hard to think of what little treats you want to give yourself. So many pleasures come at a cost: cookies cost calories, movies and books take time and focus, a museum costs the price of a ticket. It’s good to have a list of treats and pleasures that have a very low cost in time, energy, or money.

For instance, I’ve become obsessed with the sense of smell, and I love the fact that a good smell can be enjoyed in an instant, with no cost. My latest favorite “treat,” which I save for moments when I need a bit of extra comfort or reassurance, is the accord  “Hay” from CB I Hate Perfume. It’s a warm, sweet, summer smell…of hay. I only put it on as a special treat. (Of course, it did cost me something to buy it, but not too much, and never again.)

What small treats and pleasures have you found for yourself?  Be honest! Not things that you think you should consider a treat, or what you wish you considered a treat (you may or may not find going for a run to be a treat), but things that you actually do consider a treat. Even if these aren’t particularly estimable.

Here are some examples that struck my imagination: twinkle lights, audio-books, going to an amusement park, looking through art books, looking through old photo albums, eye drops, video games, people-watching.

I want to lengthen my own list. What would you add?

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  • http://www.facebook.com/danielle.fulmer.1 Danielle Fulmer

    I have been thinking about this a lot lately. I am working really hard to move past a disordered relationship with food, and a big part of that is finding other ways to nurture and comfort myself- realizing that food is not meant as punishment or reward, but as nourishment. Anyway, I have an ongoing list of “small treats” and comforts, which includes going for a walk, making a new music playlist, lighting a candle, doing a face mask, going to bed early, and “window shopping” for clothing online. I would love to hear other people’s ideas!

  • http://twitter.com/TaraEAnderson Tara Anderson

    One of the best treats I can give myself is a nap, or just closing my eyes to rest for 10 minutes.

  • LizH

    My number one (rare) treat has to be rereading books I read as a kid, romance novels, potboilers, basically anything that I don’t have to work very hard at but know I enjoy. Rereading the easy stuff takes less time than watching a movie, and it’s time I can shut everything else out. Another thing I love to do is to reread my old writings. I already put the effort in a long time ago, so it’s nice to get to enjoy them with fresh eyes as a reader years later.

    Some other ones: petting my cats; going to look at moving water; walking barefoot in grass; swinging in a hammock; looking at the stars; getting a quick foot rub; putting on cashmere socks or a cozy sweater; eating a small bar of fancy chocolate; going to the library; looking at design blogs online; getting a croissant, a New York Times, and a cup of tea and doing the puzzle with my husband; listening to old folk music; making a quick but fancy tea at home complete with scones and cucumber sandwiches… I guess I have a lot!

  • http://twitter.com/micayla micayla

    I have a list of places in my city I’d like to experience- restaurants, boutique shops, parks, tourist attractions, locally owned bookstores. I enjoy adding to it from a local magazine, local bloggers, the newspaper, the website of the local visitor’s bureau. So when I want to do something special, I pull out my iphone (I keep the list on an app called ‘Clear’) and find a new place to visit. Many of them are free, so the only cost is the transportation. Plus, Clear makes a satisfying sound when I complete something on a list.

  • MJ

    Ooh, now I’m looking at the CB site. Burning Leaves sounds wonderful, as does Winter Snow. Worth it?

    As for treats, sometimes it’s food, sometimes a bit of a book, sometimes not reading the blogs I follow until after I get some task done. Going to the library. Whatever seems to work!

    • gretchenrubin

      Beautiful smells!

  • http://www.FreakyBeautiful.com/ Evan Griffith

    Tara — Me too! From 15 to 30 minutes, and I’m re-energized. I’ve been known to dive into my car to accomplish this when absolutely needed. Upon waking, it’s as if you get all the energy of morning again. — Evan

  • Nupur

    My small treats: (1) leafing through a cookbook/cooking magazine and picking out recipes I would like to make (most of the time I never make them but it is fun to just do the thought exercise), (2) watching 80s hip hip music videos on YouTube, (3) texting a “hiya” to my best friend.

  • peninith1

    twinkle lights? oh YES!

  • Lee Anne Detzel

    My small treats include intentionally writing with a nice pen (I have to keep my favorites out of the curious sight of a 2 year old), drinking a cup of coffee or tea without doing something else at the same time, turning on the radio to a favorite station (I always forget to do this even though I like listening to music), using a great hand cream or lip balm.

  • Leah in NC

    Soaking your feet in a pail of warm water with some oil and essential oil – usually lavender. You can do this while reading (and drinking a cup of tea)… It’s a cheap and good treat that always makes me feel better!

  • Nicole

    Reading the Happiness Project – REALLY!
    Also, Pinterest lights up all the positive centers of my brain. I teach elementary school and I had a blast “pinning” new, fresh, creative, attractive teaching ideas for every subject!

    • gretchenrubin

      Awww, thanks!

      And Pinterest is really something fun for a lot of people. I love it, too. Readers, if you want an invitation to Pinterest yourself, just email me, and I’ll send you one.

      • http://forgottencookies.blogspot.com/ Mallory

        Just FYI, you no longer need an invitation to join Pinterest.

        • gretchenrubin

          Wow, that’s new! Excellent.

  • Lisa Y

    Pandora Radio is a treat for me! And magazines!

  • Megan

    Pinterest, warm bubble baths with a good book or magazine, a good fb chat with a favorite friend, cooking something exciting or new, playing backgammon, reading favorite blogs like A Cup of Jo or Kelle Hampton’s or The Sartorialist or this one, going out with my camera, collecting seashells and stones, Instagraming, making a cocktail, going back in time on my fb wall for old memories and smiles, staring at the sea looking for otters and seals, a proper dinner at the table, flickering smelling great candles, daydreaming about favorite times and hopeful future scenarios.

  • Hedgehog

    Getting into a freshly made bed with clean bed linen, clean pyjamas having just had a lovely bath. Even better if I know the general household cleaning is done/things are ready for tomorrow – this is my Sunday evening treat and it’s such a pleasure I rarely suffer from ‘Oh no, it’s Monday tomorrow blues’.
    I like sitting down and writing (yes with pen and paper!) a letter to a friend – it’s such a treat to get a real letter, I love to imagine the surprise and pleasure someone gets when they get something through the post and it isn’t Christmas or birthday.
    Baking – although this does result in food – I try to give it away at work as it’s the actual act of baking I like.
    Making a pot of tea rather than just putting a teabag in a mug. Somehow the ritual of it and the fact that you need to wait a moment or two for it to brew slows the entire day down and stops me feeling rushed. It’s a moment of calm!
    Some friends and I once had a discussion about this on a long train journey. I can’t remember them all now but we made a list of ‘The things that make you go mmmm…’ I also have a set of ‘nice things’ which are all written on small cards, I package them up into a pretty box, write an explanatory note and give them to people as a present – birthday, wedding or just when they’re feeling a little down. I usually phrase it as a ‘random reminder’ of the beautiful things in the world.

    • Michael M

      Regarding letters … I agree! In one of Julia Cameron’s books on creativity, she gives the “homework” assignment of writing postcards or short notes to 5 people from your past you are grateful for. Writing these was one of the most fulfilling things I’ve ever done. And imagine how delighted I was when I heard back from my favorite high school teacher after more than 20 years. Needless to say, she was delighted as well.

    • Sadye

      Oh yes, clean sheets and PJs are absolutely wonderful. I’m also a fan of a long shower and putting on lotion. This one is much harder to plan, but whenever I walk past a laundry vent and smell detergent, it’s an instant boost.

  • bas bleu

    write down a list of my goals and dreams, go for a walk, light candles, play my favorite cd’s, read a magazine, sit down with a cup of coffee or green tea, meditate, knit, watch an episode of 30 rock, read a book, take a nap, buy fresh flowers.

  • Chelsea

    I love the idea of finding no or low-cost rewards! In addition to many of the rewards mentioned by others, I love: finding an inspiring podcast, doing a mini-pamper session, sitting on my balcony with a cup of tea, exploring a new suburb of Sydney, planning a trip, “dozing” time (literally lie on the couch and do nothing but let my mind wander and go in and out of naps), searching for new quotes and posting them around my apartment, finding and drinking a new tea, and rearranging my furniture.

  • Carmen

    Loved reading through the comments full of treats :)

    some of my favorites:
    -working on a jigsaw puzzle and listening to a book on tape or a podcast – the two things go so well together, my mom & I do this for about an hour per night when we can.
    -sudoku and crossword puzzles
    -watching an episode of whatever show I’m going through at the time, right now How I Met Your Mother
    -a glass of wine in the evening
    -a bubble bath
    -a quick walk
    -reading my favorite magazine when it comes out every month
    -lighting a candle
    -opening http://now.jit.su/ and just watching the images go by for a few minutes.

  • Talia

    Silly as it sounds. I paint my nails. It brings me great joy to look at my hands and see a pretty color. I don’t do it often, but when I’ve reached a goal or accomplishment – I start painting!

  • http://www.facebook.com/wendy.koscierzynski Wendy Koscierzynski

    Reading this blog! nice shower gel and nice hand soap and lotion. Very quick pick me ups. Hits that sense of smell you mentioned too. 2 small squares of dove chocolate. reading a children’s book, not a novel, like my pop up beauty and the beast book or a winnie the pooh one.

  • Marie

    I’m sure there are others but the very first thing that came to mind as one of my favorite treats is vanilla sugar. Just split a vanilla bean into a jar filled with sugar, shake it around and wait a few days, up to a week, depending on the freshness of your bean, and you’ve got your own vanilla sugar. I drink coffee with sugar every day, so it’s a nice treat to change to the vanilla sugar sometimes. I’m not adding any extra sugar to my day, so no guilt. And it totally changes the taste. It’s great for a pot of tea also. It’s such an easy thing but feels like such a decadence to me. I guess it’s because the beans can be a little pricey so I don’t do it all the time. But when I think about the cost per use (one bean per a quart of sugar, or so), it’s really cheap. Maybe I should do this more often ;-)

  • LeslieHeberlie

    I worked with someone who said that she’d be out of contact for a while as she was on a bike tour, and she characterized her phone/computer abstinence as a gift to herself. I read Barbara Kingsolver’s Prodigal Summer every year as a gift to myself, knowing that I always come away from it feeling juicy and grounded, and most of all, gratified to have slowed down.

  • http://www.projectmanager.com/ Ericka

    Great Article!

    I’ve been guilty whenever I buy a nice top or a pair of jeans to treat myself after a week’s work. So I resort to smelling the aroma of coffee, reading news, LinkedIn articles and romance novels, drawing movie or TV shows’ logo, tweeting inspiring and motivational quotes, and writing.

  • laura

    making a collage of magazine cut outs – my own creative outlet resulting in a unique work of art

  • BKF

    This may sound silly but I feel much better and energized after a shower/bath. Although a shower is hardly something I withhold from myself regularly, on weekends, if I am feeling “blah,” it’s amazing how much a warm shower perks me up. I still remember how in my childhood (abroad), we would heat up water in a pot on a stove and then mix it with cold water to have warm water to wash ourselves. Also, sometimes the city would cut off running water, so we had to store water in pots/buckets…. I still appreciate having access to running, hot water all the time.

    Books- written and audio- always make happy. Good scents, a walk in the fresh air cheers me up, listening to some favorite music, doing gentle yoga, or doing something thoughtful for someone else all usually leave me in a better mood than I started off with. There is a children’s book (Have you filled a bucket today? Carol McCloud) that depicts everyone as having a bucket over their head. When someone is mean to another person, both are shown as having their buckets emptied. On the other hand when you do nice for someone else, you fill both their and your own bucket. In our house, we talk about filling each others’s buckets. (It is an easy concept for kids to grasp.)

  • bucklig

    definitely a cup of tea :)

  • http://www.no14plusminus.ro/ Gleen Caryne Chavous

    I often treat myself with passages from The Happiness Project ;) I’m a fan, what can I say…

    • gretchenrubin

      Awww! That’s so nice to hear.

  • Eric

    Browsing magazines/books at Barnes and Noble. Splurge for lemonade at Houston’s. Hanging out with son at Starbucks. An expensive breakfast (costs, but worth it). Friday afternoon phone call to a friend at the end of a work week. I’ve been meaning to try going to a local park and just sitting or strolling. Bike ride with son, or biking to dinner. Watching playoff baseball on tv without feeling guilty about not doing something more useful. Hanging out with my cat in the morning or at night. Cup of tea at work. Taking 15 – 20 minutes to meditate.

  • Valerie Messina

    A vanilla scented bubble bath and a good book!

  • marie

    Walking through my garden, a small piece of really good chocolate, reading Gretchen or other fun blog/comics reading, going thrifting. If I’m really good, getting a massage or going dancing. I have very little time outside of obligations these days, so any time that’s just for me is a treat.

  • Molly

    A scroll through Facebook. But the first thing I thought of was a trip to the library; I love it! Everything about it. I’m always ordering things and then forgetting about them. So when I get an email that something’s there for me, it’s so special. And free! My library is open every day until late. It feels like a second home. Sometimes I just go there and look at the books and not check anything out.

  • Molly

    A trip to the CVS will also restore me to sanity. It’s air conditioned and I can just wander the aisles and look at things. I’m able to visit stores and not buy anything. But I love to look!

  • Jeanne DeShazer

    I love this idea. I also was thinking that six weeks apart is the optimum time for me to form a group schedule. The dates could be predetermined for a year at a time so they can be entered into a calendar. It feels less like a burden and more like a special occasion when done a little less often. Thanks for sharing this.