Can Treating Yourself Boost Your Mood and Your Career? [Survey]

Treating yourself

Key Takeaways

  • Respondents who treated themselves daily reported the highest levels of good mental health, happiness, and life satisfaction.
  • Men were more likely than women to take on debt for treats and to say they treat themselves more than they should.
  • $84 was the average amount spent per month on treating oneself.
  • Employees who never take a day off to treat themselves reported the lowest levels of work-life balance.

“Treat Yo’ Self” was a term popularized by the character Donna Meagle on NBC’s “Parks and Recreation” series. The episode features Donna and two friends taking a day off work to treat themselves to whatever they wanted, some of which included mimosas, massages, and fine leather goods. With these examples in mind, when is the last time you treated yourself to anything at all? Do you allow yourself to indulge, or do you wait for a truly special occasion?

Recently, we got to the science behind “treating yourself” by collecting data from more than 1,000 Americans. We compared the types of treats they purchased, what occasions prompted them, and how they felt afterward. We even asked them to report their annual income and overall sense of well-being to see how regularly treating oneself could ultimately impact important measures of success. If you’re curious to see if you need to be tinkering with your own approach to indulgence, keep scrolling. 

Reasons for Treats

We defined “treating yourself” specifically as, “Things you buy or experiences you have in order to indulge, reward, or just enjoy yourself.” After reading this, respondents shared how often they partook, how they felt about that frequency, and the top emotions associated with the treat.

01 occasions for indulgence

Most respondents treated themselves with some regularity—more than 1 in 10 did so daily, while an additional 40% did so monthly. Evidently, it’s for a very good reason: The top feelings surrounding each treat were highly positive. Emotions like “relaxed,” “happy,” and “grateful” were used to describe treats 62%, 61%, and 30% of the time, respectively. Moreover, those who managed to treat themselves every day were also more likely to report better mental health. 

However, there is a catch. Treating yourself wasn’t always as simple as “Buy this, and you’ll be happy!” Most respondents—especially men—shared a sense of treating themselves too often, and those earning less money annually were increasingly likely to feel a sense of guilt after treating themselves. Twenty-two percent of respondents overall felt stressed, followed by 15% who felt guilty after an indulgent purchase.

Budgeting for Rewards

Though the word “treat” carries a connotation for something small, respondents weren’t always keeping them tiny. This piece of our study asks respondents to share their monthly treat budget, the most they’ve ever spent on a treat, and how that purchase came about. 

02 budgeting for being bad

On average, respondents budgeted $84 per month for personal indulgences. With an average annual spend of $1,008, it may be no surprise that technology-related treats (24%) and travel (15%) took the top spots for the most expensive spends in terms of treats. In fact, respondents were spending $746, on average, for their most expensive indulgences. Fifty-nine percent of the time, respondents even admitted to going into debt to treat themselves in this way. 

Nevertheless, these larger splurges weren’t for just any occasion. More than a third treated themselves to such grandiose price tags because it was their birthday, while an additional 25% spent this amount for Christmas. Only a respective 5% and 4% purchased their most expensive treats for meeting financial goals or feeling stressed.

Walking Away From the Treat

In spite of the sometimes lavish treats respondents rewarded themselves with, there were also many times when they walked away from the impulse. This piece of our study reveals the top situations that prevented respondents from treating themselves at one point or another. 

03 indulgene denied

Money was the No. 1 reason respondents were unable or unwilling to treat themselves. They specifically cited financial difficulties 46% of the time, followed by a lack of disposable income (42%), an effort to save money in general (41%), or saving for important milestones (40%). These financial constraints were even more common reasons than COVID-19 creating financial hardship, though this was still mentioned by a third of respondents who denied themselves a treat. 

Emotional barriers to the concept of self-indulgence also came up, though not as frequently as tangible financial ones. Twenty-nine percent mentioned feelings of guilt preventing them from treating themselves, while 17% believed they hadn’t earned it, 14% worried about being judged by others, and 13% simply felt undeserving.

Working for the Goodies

Both negative and positive experiences prompt a little indulgence. Focusing on work-related experiences specifically, this last piece of our study asks respondents about the occasions that prompted treats. 

04 working hard or hardly working

Positive experiences at work (e.g., promotions and raises) were much more likely to warrant treats than negative experiences, like stressful days or bad performance reviews. Perhaps there’s a financial constraint associated with having a bad workday, but there’s also a lot of psychological science behind the value of positive reinforcement (i.e., treating yourself when something goes well).

Rewarding yourself for good behavior can actually increase the likelihood of obtaining more of these positive experiences in the future, which is something a person likely wouldn’t want to apply to negative experiences. Men were ultimately more likely to reward themselves for negative experiences, like getting laid off, while women demonstrated a higher likelihood to reward themselves for finishing a project or solving a problem. 

Treating Yourself, Made Smarter

Given the findings of this study, treating yourself is clearly important. In most cases, it generates positive emotions, and it can be associated with a better work-life balance. It can also be an effective tool for positive reinforcement or encouraging more of the behavior a person is rewarding themselves for. 

There are even more ways to be smarter about treating yourself, especially when it comes to budget. By browsing websites like first, you can find the best possible deals for the indulgences you want—letting yourself get the treat, while keeping some extra cash in your wallet. Join shoppers who save every single month at over 100,000 online stores. If you’re in the mood for an affordable treat, head to today. 

Methodology and Limitations

We surveyed 1,011 respondents ranging in age from 19 to 76 years old in order to explore the benefits of treating yourself. The mean age was 39. 

Fifty-nine percent of respondents were men, and 41% were women. Three percent of our respondents were Generation Z, 62% were millennials, 23% were Generation X, and 12% were baby boomers.

For short, open-ended questions, outliers were removed. 

To help ensure that all respondents took our survey seriously, they were required to identify and correctly answer an attention-check question. 

Survey data have certain limitations related to self-reporting. These limitations include telescoping, exaggeration, and selective memory. We didn’t weight our data or statistically test our hypothesis. This was a purely exploratory project that examined how, when, and why people treat themselves. 

Fair Use Statement

We’re thinking it’s time to treat yourself and a friend. If you’d like to share this article, you are welcome to do so. Just be sure your purposes are noncommercial and that you link back to this study when doing so.