Writer, author, memoir teacher. I write about the connections we find by giving each other the time and space to be heard.

Continuous Small Treats

“One of the secrets of a happy life is continuous small treats.” – Iris Murdoch

I have a little routine, and I suspect many of you do, too, when I need to do something hard. I promise myself a little treat, and to keep from worrying about the hard thing, I think about what the treat will be. A piece of chocolate. A shopping trip to Chico’s. An ice cream cone.

Last week, my doctor recommended a nuclear stress test. Of course, I googled it, and learned it could take up to three hours, involves injecting my veins with radioactive material, and lying down while a machine moves over my torso taking pictures of my heart at rest and after walking as fast as I can on a climbing treadmill. Next step is jogging, the technician said. Want to try? No, I did not. But I was flattered she thought I could do it.

The test was not painful, and my husband and our kids and texted me the whole time, which made me feel cared for. We couldn’t have done that years ago, before texting, when I had more intrusive and painful procedures. And this one had a happy outcome: no blockages, normal heart. So, I bought myself an ice cream cone.

I celebrate the good things with treats too. I promised myself a Sherry Tinsman bracelet when I sold my book, and I wear it to remind myself that I accomplished something hard.

It’s extra nice when someone you love gives you a treat, especially when it’s something they know you’d like. Just the thought of it really counts, doesn’t it? Knowing they took the time to get you something real is as meaningful as the treat itself. A lunch in a nice restaurant. A bouquet of flowers. A pretty card in the mail.

So, what is the key word in that Iris Murdoch quote?

For me, it’s “continuous.” I used to wonder if I really deserve to be constantly treating myself. Then I wondered where the clipboard was, the one where my name gets checked off as qualified to “gift myself.” At three-quarters of a century (eek!), I finally stopped asking if I deserved it. Everyone is too focused on their own lives to care whether I treated myself today.

According to one of my favorite authors, Rick Hanson, “giving stimulates the same neural networks that light up when we feel physical pleasure, such as eating a cookie or running warm water over cold hands. [and]…if you are giving . . . toward yourself . . . it’s a two-for-one deal!” In other words, your neural networks light up twice as bright when you gift yourself!

Here are some of my favorites:

  • On a hot and muggy day, a gelato. Calories that are totally worth it.
  • A nap on the couch with a good book. My husband does this. All. The. Time.
  • A good book anywhere. Yesterday, I saw a woman reading at the counter of a diner while she drank her coffee. It’s a great idea I’m going to try.
  • A comfy sweatshirt on an early fall morning, as welcome as the fresh clean air.

What’s on your list of treats? Send us your ideas!

And go ahead. Fire up those neural networks and gift yourself today.

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