What do psychologists say about treating yourself? The answer: not only is it okay, but it’s also healthier.
If you were to spend money on a new dress, a spa day, or a fancy dinner, would you feel guilty? Are you embarrassed to admit you spent a couple of hours getting a facial and manicure instead of doing chores? Well, you shouldn’t be!
A 2020 study (published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin) says that permitting ourselves to indulge in short-term enjoyment is just as vital to our wellness as putting effort into bigger, long-term goals.
Abraham Lincoln is quoted as saying, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree, and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” What does this have to do with mental, physical, and spiritual wellness? It means that you cannot be effective as a worker, partner, friend, or parent if you fail to spend enough time maintaining the equipment you use. In this case, “maintenance” means keeping yourself healthy, happy, and energized enough to meet your goals.
As adults, we are taught that we need to be unselfish and pay more attention to big goals than to our own enjoyment. While it’s okay for children to do fun things and ask for new toys, adults should be more serious. We’re told to focus on moving forward in our careers, or on affording a nicer home—not on the short-term pleasure of play or sensory enjoyment. Although responsibility is an important part of reaching happiness and fulfilment, recent research indicates that short-term pleasure is just as much a key to happiness.
The study, by Dr Katharina Bernecker and Dr Daniela Becker, found that a stronger ability to indulge in short-term pleasures (called a person’s “hedonic capacity”) is positively correlated to their overall satisfaction with life.
The first part of the study was conducted by interviewing subjects about how much and how well they allow themselves to participate in and enjoy short-term pleasures. They were asked questions about how effectively they’re able to do something fun while letting go of stress—and also about whether thoughts of what they “should” be doing manage to butt into their relaxation. For example, if they spend a few hours going to dinner with friends, how often will they have guilty thoughts about an unfinished work task?
Next, the researchers asked their participants to answer questions about their overall well-being and life satisfaction. Then, they used statistical models to compare the sets of variables, helping them to understand whether “high hedonic capacity” or “low hedonic capacity” is better for wellbeing. This data was analyzed in conjunction with each person’s scores for pursuing long-term, responsible goals (self-control, et cetera).
The study’s results were obvious: yes, people who put effort into their long-term goals are happier as a result. But the ability to let go and treat yourself to short-term enjoyment is just as critical to happiness.
What does this mean in terms of day-to-day decisions? The answer is different according to each person’s tastes and circumstances. Maybe one person would enjoy taking an extra few hours per week to exercise, while another person would think that’s punishment instead of a reward. Maybe indulging in food looks like “extra calories” for one person, or an “expensive restaurant” for another. Some people feel that a cheap rental property in a nearby city makes for a nice, low-key weekend vacation, while others would rather spend extra on upgrades. Most people would probably agree that spending a little time and money on a relaxing spa day or a trip to the clothing boutique is worthwhile, too. The amount of money spent isn’t the important thing; it’s more important to remind yourself, “My relaxation is worth investing in.” Whatever your self-indulgence looks like, don’t feel guilty. As long as you treat yourself in moderation, it’s good for you. So, take President Lincoln’s advice about good maintenance to heart, and treat yourself to something that will make you feel great—contact Brandon Essentials to book that massage, facial, or manicure appointment you have been putting off.