Saturday, November 7, 2009


You know what's been bugging me a lot lately? The concept of treats.

It seems simple enough. Treats are things you don't ordinarily get to have, but that you get to have sometimes. On, say, special occasions, or only at certain times. They're things you like a lot. They're often things that are on balance not good for you in some way -- unhealthful or expensive -- or otherwise you'd just indulge all the time and it wouldn't be a treat anymore.

But if you're like me, this "indulging all the time" tends to happen regardless. It's easy for treats to become, well, part of what you expect on any given day. After all, they're things you like and enjoy so . . . you start to expect your treats, and demand them. And from then on it's all downhill.

For instance, I recently gave up Diet Coke. For me Diet Coke started off as a kind of treat -- mmm, yay, Diet Coke! But pretty soon I drank it more and more often -- because I liked it so much. Eventually Diet Coke was like a ball and chain, because I expected to be able to have it whenever I wanted and when I couldn't I was grouchy and dissatsfied. My treat had become a misery.

I toyed with the idea of turning Diet Coke back into a treat by making a rule for myself that I could only have it occasionally, as, well, you know, a treat. But it turned out to be easier not to drink Diet Coke at all than it was to drink it only once in a while; drinking it only occasionally required too much in the way of focused self-denial. You know, "No Patricia, no Diet Coke today. It's only for special occasions." Ugh. I gave it up altogether. And now I hardly miss it at all.

It got me thinking that it's this way a lot with treats -- at least if you're not a child. If you're going to have something all the time it isn't a treat. But if you're only going to have it occasionally you're going to have to be constantly making sure you don't have it at other times. Your treat becomes a misery of self-denial.

It's not a problem for children though, because adults can control how much access they have and they don't have to suffer the self-control and self-denial problem. Maybe the moral is that treats, like huge piles of gifts under the tree, are best suited for kids and not for grownups.

It's not a paradox, the adult concept of a treat. But it sure is weird.

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