Self-indulgence is not the same thing as self care, the real key to happiness and health.
Sometimes when life is really overwhelming, I decide I need a night off. Instead of cleaning the kitchen, taking a shower, and going to bed after the kids are asleep, I grab some wine and chocolate and catch up on my favorite TV shows.
I did this last night. It was glorious … last night. This morning, I’m bleary-eyed from staying up too late and sluggish from the late-night wine and sugar rush. I don’t feel terrible, but I don’t feel great. In fact, I feel like a need a night off.
Ironic, right? But a lot of us do this. We tend to equate indulgence with self-care, but as this article at Thought Catalog eloquently explains, the two couldn’t be more different.
If you find yourself having to regularly indulge in consumer self-care, it’s because you are disconnected from actual self-care, which has very little to do with “treating yourself” and a whole lot do with parenting yourself and making choices for your long-term wellness. It is no longer using your hectic and unreasonable life as justification for self-sabotage in the form of liquor and procrastination. It is learning how to stop trying to “fix yourself” and start trying to take care of yourself … and maybe finding that taking care lovingly attends to a lot of the problems you were trying to fix in the first place.
I’m struck by the phrase “parenting yourself.” I am a parent, so I know that what my kids need the most to be healthy and happy is a dependable routine, good food, and clear expectations. They need to be in bed by 8 to get up at 6 for school. They need healthy, balanced meals to keep their growing bodies healthy. They need to know that when they come home they have to change their clothes, unpack their lunches, put their backpacks away, and do their homework before playing outside.
Sometimes I’ll let them stay up late on the weekends to watch a movie and eat ice cream. It’s fun and all, but it takes them a whole day to recover from it. They’re inevitably grumpy and short-tempered the next day, and minor spats turn into major arguments with tears all around. So even though self-indulgence feels good to them in the moment, they really enjoy life better when they’re being properly and consistently cared for.
I know that about my kids. I’ve known that since they were babies. But it took me years to realize the same thing about myself. The most miserable periods of my life have also been the periods of greatest indulgence. Binge-watching Netflix for a week straight in no way leaves me feeling rested and refreshed, but working out and going to bed early does. Eating frozen pizza to give myself a break from cooking might leave me with fewer dishes and more time, but it also leaves me with indigestion. Eating a bag of chocolates doesn’t feel like a treat, it feels like a compulsion. But eating one square of dark chocolate does feel like a treat.
It’s too bad that self-care has become synonymous with indulgence, but it’s important to recognize that actually caring for yourself rarely includes indulgence. It does include giving yourself what you need so you can live life the way you want — happily and healthily.