Treat Yo' Self - Are We Just Rewarding Selfishness?

treat yo' self yourself reward positive reinforcement community wellness

We've all said it, we've all used it, we've all meant it. But let's break it down.


'Treat Yourself' is a phrase used to justify pampering yourself - buying that cupcake, making those purchases that don't fit into your budget, etc. It's a positive reward for simply living life, and as someone who thoroughly believes the power of positive reinforcement in schools, families, jobs, and our personal lives, I LOVE IT. 

To reward myself for getting through a day at my job, I often will keep a single Hershey's kiss right behind my keyboard. I'll set a rubric, like 'just get through the next twenty minutes' or 'finish this task that you don't want to do' and then I get to eat the kiss. Depending on the day, and my need for a reward, I might have just one chocolate morsel, or, I might have twenty. To say the least, I wholeheartedly agree with positive reinforcement. 

But, I think the phrase 'Treat Yourself,' and the cultural shift around it, is actually a bit selfish.

Sure, that's obvious, because it's for yo' self. But, why can't our rewards be treating others? At the end of a long day at work, instead of going and buying that extra bottle of wine or that top from Modcloth, what if we took dinner to someone in need? What if we gave up something of excess? Or donated to a cause? 

Why isn't service rewarding?

We are a society that talks about the importance of community, the necessity of helping people all over the world, and yet we are deeply tied to consumerism, rather than service, as reward and rewarding.

I remember when I was in high school, my dad (the accountant) kept encouraging purchases because I was "helping the economy." Sure, I want to help keep those small business owners afloat, but taken to an extreme, that kind of logic just continues a horrible cycle of self-worth through consumerism.

I had a really rough, emotional, and depressive week last week, and I was just on the brink of totally losing it on Friday. But instead, my husband and I got in the car and drove to HomeGoods. We were there for about an hour, spent $160, and I left feeling SO INCREDIBLY GOOD! It was ridiculous; we purchased all things that we will use (and have used in the past few days) regularly. But, they were all unnecessary. And, sure enough, it didn't actually solve or fix my emotional or mental health. About 18 hours later, I was in a ball on the floor obsessively tearing apart a roll of tissue paper.

So why do we want to feel good by spending money on ourselves? Why do we place such an emphasis on buying things when it doesn't actually help in the long-run?

We need rewards. I need rewards. With my mental and emotional states, I have to look forward to something. And some days I truly do need to reward myself for just getting out of bed and putting pants on. And some days I don't notice or need any kind of extra light at the end of the tunnel. I am not saying that rewarding yourself, taking care of your own well-being, and flat out 'treating yo'self' are inherently bad. 


Some days, I can't get through an hour at work without thinking ahead to my next reward - watching the newest Game of Thrones episode, going to bed early, getting to snuggle with my pups. 

But, saying 'Treat Yo' Self' after every feat, as a justification for short-term indulgence and consumption, probably isn't the healthiest thing - it breeds even more selfishness, which negatively affects our long-term mental, emotional, and spiritual well-beings. 

I think we all need to refocus our lives on the greater community, while understanding that our own needs and wellness can be served by serving others. Will this keep me from rewarding myself when I make it to Friday afternoon? Realistically, no. But I will be trying to find creative ways to "reward myself" that benefit the community - and not just by buying from local shops. After all, if we choose the right rewards, then treating ourselves will be the same as treating others.

How do you reward yourself and your community?