When to Treat Yourself And When to Not

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We all enjoy treats. I don’t care how old or dignified you are, a treat is still something to get excited about and look forward to. And because we are all unique, what we enjoy as treats varies widely: my six year old sister can be excited about a lollipop for an hour. I would rather have a new pair of shoes – or at least a bowl of ice cream with melted peanut butter on top.

Unfortunately, we live in a world where the words “Treat yourself!” are synonymous with YOLO (“You only live once”). The principle behind both popular sayings is that you should do what you want and make yourself happy. “You do you.” Go for whatever it is that you want right now because that is what will make you happy and you deserve it.

Nice as that sounds, it is a far cry from the biblical principle of denying ourselves and taking up our cross (Luke 9:23). And the doctrine of sin and total depravity (Romans 3:23). We are not here to be happy and our sin means we deserve anything but the blessings that we are so often given.

And yet, God has given us those blessings anyway, and we can receive them (1 Timothy 4:4). The question is not whether we can treat ourselves, but how to do it biblically. There are times when it is good to scoop a bowl of ice cream. And there are times when it is not. I’d like to propose a few measures to help in discerning whether now is the time to “Treat yourself.”

When You’ve Earned It

So this first one is a system that I use fairly often in small ways, but not in large ones. The idea is that you decide ahead of time on a reward for some act or goal and once you earn it, you get the treat.

One example would be allowing yourself an M&M after every page of studying for a final. Sometimes I use pleasure reading as an incentive to finish school work: one hour of writing a paper = one chapter of a novel.

This can also be used for larger goals and rewards. A new pair of running shoes could be waiting for you after finishing your first big race. A weekend trip to the beach could be the reward for finishing your senior year of high school (hint, hint parents).

The nature of this system of treating yourself is that it is a system. The reward is set up in advance to be received upon completion of a set task or goal. It’s not random or unpredictable.

Every Once in a While

Who likes ice cream? Raise your hand high.

The thing about ice cream – and any other treat – is that it cannot be had every day and still be good. It would be horribly unhealthy to eat a bowl of Rocky Road every night after dinner. And the pleasure obtained from the beautifully creamy treat would diminish as it became a regular part of the routine.

Treats are meant to be just that: treats. We cannot indulge ourselves every time we have a craving. That’s called having no self-control, a character trait we are called to develop as followers of Christ.

There is no guide to how often we can go shoe shopping or take an afternoon off of school. It is something that should be left to each of our consciences. And if we are listening to our conscience and thinking about what we are doing, discerning whether a treat is appropriate or not can become much easier. But as soon as we allow our cravings and desires to overcome what we know is right, we start to silence our conscience and discernment becomes more difficult.

So practice moderation in treating yourself. The more you do, the easier it will be.

When It Is Not a Coping Mechanism

I stress eat sometimes. It’s not a disorder or anything like that, but when I get anxious or frustrated or worried, sometimes I look for an extra snack. For some people, retail therapy is a form of coping with stress. (This future college student can’t imagine spending more money than necessary when paying for college is one of the worries, but it is something people struggle with.)

At this point, the treat is not a treat. It is a coping mechanism. And the thing about coping mechanisms is that they don’t often help. They might soothe the stress for the moment, but they don’t get to the root of the problem. In fact, they often create another problem to be dealt with later.

Before allowing yourself a treat, ask why you are having it. Is it because work or school has been particularly demanding this week? Is it because a relationship is falling apart? Or is it something else?

Don’t turn to treats to cope. They can’t do anything for you and using them in that way makes them less appealing later. Turn to God if you need to cope with something. He is the only One Who can bring us through the stress and struggles.

At Random – Sometimes

Life is wonderful! There is some truth to YOLO. But make it a positive truth. Be spontaneous with treats just to have a little fun – not because you need it to be happy or because you deserve it.

Go out to eat with friends on a random Wednesday night. Go see a movie you’ve really been looking forward to. Have dessert after dinner sometimes.

None of this is an attempt to take the joy out of treats. God has showered us with good things and I want you to enjoy them! So don’t be so regimented in allowing yourself treats that you don’t have fun. Spice it up. Get those crazy socks. Take a day off to go hiking. Treat yourself – in a God-glorifying way!


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