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“Treat Yo’self!”: When small indulgences take over


Elizabeth Scalia - published on 03/13/17

There’s nothing morally wrong with an occasional small indulgence, particularly in the midst of something festive – even in Lent, after all, we are permitted to exempt ourselves from our disciplines on Sundays, because a day of resurrection must be celebrated. For many of us, however, particularly in the prosperous West – and even more particularly, I might say, in the United States – treating ourselves has become an everyday sort of thing. One of my friends recently wondered what she should give her son for his 21st birthday. “He has everything,” she lamented, “and this has been the problem since he was 12! I never know what to get him for his birthday or Christmas, because no one waits anymore to get stuff on special occasions. It’s not like when we were kids!”

She was right, and we both reminisced about the excitement we felt as children, when the approach of a birthday or Christmas meant the acquisition of something special – something we really wanted that would never be considered a casual or ordinary purchase. I can still remember how speechless I was when my parents presented me an electric typewriter for my 14th birthday, because back in the olden days – the 1970’s – one didn’t just buy something because one wanted it, especially not something as luxurious as that. My friend recalled how thrilled she was, at 15, with the “vanity package” her parents had given her; it included a lighted mirror, a blow dryer and a curling iron. “Your typewriter, and my grooming supplies!” she marveled. “They were things you wanted and waited for. Now, my kids tell me they want something and somehow it becomes a ‘need’ – it’s not even a treat; it’s just something I go out and buy.”

This, of course, is one of the pitfalls of prosperity; the more we have, the more readily we possess, the less we seek to possess God and the more our spirits become distracted.

“The deceitful charms of prosperity destroy more souls than all the scourges of adversity,” warned Saint Bernard of Clairvaux.

We “treat ourselves” all the time, and because we do, we have become so expert at rationalizations that they take no energy at all.

  • I’m stopping off for a drink with the girls before I head home, because my manager is a jerk, and I deserve it.
  • I know my smart phone is perfectly fine, but the new one is out and I want it, and I can give the old one to my kid (if she’ll accept it) or even better, my mother, who will never buy one for herself!
  • The scale shows I’m down four pounds, so I can have ice-cream because I’m sad, today.

We can make excuses for ourselves ad nauseam, and when we do we are not only affecting our world, our families, our jobs, our weight; we are impacting our spirits, too, and not in positive ways.

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