Posted in Of Psyche

Of Rewards and Treats

baked cake with candies on top
Photo by Daria Shevtsova on

Recently, I made the blunder of advising a parent on how to deal with their seven-year-old kid. FYI, I’m not a parent, and I can imagine all you parents reading this heading for the barn to bring out the rakes. In my defense, I was only trying to help.

I am a bit of a universal gyan-giver. ‘Gyan’ means knowledge, and in India we tend to look at those who are sharing that ALL the time as not a know-it-all, because that would be flattering, but a sod-off-will-you? I only ever want to help, honestly. When they described their troubles to me, I told them (much more pleasantly) that their attachment style was wrong, and that they should implement a system of reward. Not punishment, because I have never believed in tough love. But, only motivating the kid to do his homework and other tasks to, thereby, receive something on his wish list.

Fair enough, I find many of my 21st century readers thinking (I hope I have people who have passed on from previous centuries reading this as well. If so, hi, what’s it actually like being dead? Don’t tell me it really is painful?). That’s how we all get through life, as I discussed in an earlier post about achieving things. If you don’t have something pleasant to look forward to, even something as materially unsubstantial as relief from current misery, what’s the point? The Greeks had it down to a philosophy, and we all know they were mostly right. They were competitive about everything – music, sport, theatre etc. If they had their way now, you and I would be fighting for being able to write our next blog post – because why should we be allowed to blog middlingly, or what has been my case this past year, pathetically sparse? Blog or die. Survival of the fittest, et al. Using two anachronistic phrases to make their point, but you know what I mean.

But, this parent is an actual philosopher, and they don’t want to do all that to their kid. It’s a clash between Eastern and Western philosophy here, though that is a massive generalization. The East can be found in the West, and the West can be found in the East. Their attitude to this is, a child should be taught to do anything they have to do, simply for the sake of doing it. If you want to stretch it a little, they must do it because it is their purpose, their duty, and all actions big and small, lead up to it. Even if they don’t see the significance of it, they should be doing things without the expectation of rewards.

brown pinecone on white rectangular board
Photo by on

Which is totally against how we roll these days. Everything I seem to read titled ‘Self-Care’, ‘Self-Compassion’, ‘Self-Esteem’ consists of, to a degree, treating yourself with things you’d have to shell out the moolah to buy. Which you have to earn, for which you have to work, and thus, you work so as to buy the expensive tea or the ethical-but-absurdly-pricey coat. So many things are being thrown at me everyday, big and small. And by big and small, I mainly mean the price tag. But, they all tell me I’m going to be better if I have them. And if that gets me out of bed in the morning to do things that I have to but I don’t want to, what is wrong with that?

We can’t blame this culture of relating materialism for the masses to mental health on Pavlov’s famous experiment exactly, but for the convenience of this blog post, I’m going to do just that. You know the one about the dog who could be summoned with a bell even when there wasn’t food on offer? We’re much the same. We keep on turning up for things that gratify us, even if they’re no longer there. Because, we get into the habit of it, and as we all know, an established habit is hard to break.

But, I speak as though I’m well-experienced in this. I’m not. This wasn’t how I was raised, though many of my peers were. I wasn’t exactly emotionally blackmailed by my parents, but I couldn’t stand the look of disappointment on their faces when I did things that led up to that. All the money and Egyptian cotton sheets in the world couldn’t compete with my hoping to please my parents. Without that, I am was pretty much chill in getting about my life. ‘Aim Higher’ was frequently on my report cards, but I have always rather liked being lost in the thing, without worrying about the finishing line. Or when it comes to things that make me miserable, mainly getting out of them to feel relief, rather than a chocolate bar or a short trip. That’s not really Zen, as much as it is being Bertie Wooster, or any number of moneyed British young men found in novels set in the 1920s and 1930s.

But, I’m beginning to see the wisdom of it now. Become accomplished and financially secure in life, and then have a spiritual burnout. I’ve made fun of those who set goals when it comes to yoga and meditation often enough, but if that gets you to do them in the first place, why not? You’re only grown-up when you’re able to parent yourself. When you’re able to tell yourself, “No, you’re not going to order that box of chocolates on Amazon now, even if you have gift card. Not because it will wreck your whole weight-loss plan (which currently consists of trying not to eat stuff that makes you uh, massier) because guilt is not motivation enough. But, because you need to finish this writing project first, and then treat yourself.”

Of course, you should be economical with it. Keep the treats at different sizes, and dish them out at an unpredictable rate, so as not to deprive or smother the rewardee with it. And then, let them figure out at their own pace that material things don’t ultimately make you happy. It is doing the thing itself.

And of course, it’s just a theory, for who knows what actually works? Because we’d all be doing it, wouldn’t we? We’d all have evolved into doing it, instead of thinking it is against every human impulse. For now, I’m looking to save myself some money, because I’ve treated myself way too much this year.

Do you believe in rewards and treats? Do you treat yourself with, uh, treats?


Writer, Blogger, Kate Bush Fanatic

7 thoughts on “Of Rewards and Treats

  1. The reward system works for me – this morning, cleaned the kitchen, as a treat, read some blogs. So perhaps not a sweet tooth treat, but a nice reward for completing some chores all the same!

    1. Reading blogs has become a chore for me these days! I know, awful thing to say. But, I have a tendency to avoid good things sometimes. And so, I was catching up on my favorite blogs the other day. Forgive me if I’m mistaken in this, considering I don’t know how long I haven’t been reading your reviews, but I saw you mentioning a paternity leave. Has there been reason for me to congratulate you recently?

      1. I had a splendid 2-week paternity leave at the beginning of September – there was still a couple weeks after my wife went back to work but before our daughter turned 1, so I had a delayed start to the school year!
        So I suppose, not recent congratulations, but with the now 3 girls, we’re never bored!

      2. Ah, congratulations nevertheless! My nephew just turned one as well, and having seen closely how busy it can get with just one baby boy, I bow to your and your wife’s superhuman strength to take care of three little girls!

  2. Though we’ve all heard about ‘rewards and treats’ and we generally believe in it a little, reading your blog made me realize that I don’t really work that way. When I’m working and immersed into it, I don’t really need a reward to get going, and when I’m not really in the mood for work, no reward could really pin me down.

    But I do get into this ‘reward and treat’ view when I’m working with a team or supervising other people. It is surprising that I hold one perspective for myself and another for the others.

    Of course, there are times, when you think about long-term benefits. I don’t think it really fits within the ‘rewards and treats’ you talk about in your blog here, nevertheless, we do pin ourselves down to work in the faith of a reward down the line – a few weeks or few months. These are also rewards, I guess.

    Also, there may be a need to differentiate between the activities that do not have a reward built-in and other activities that have rewards built into them. Cleaning one’s room may fall into the first category. Making a great presentation for your boss may fall into the latter category as you can expect to be rewarded in performance reports and promotions.

    Well, these are my thoughts for now. Thank you for being a catalyst for my thoughts. I probably should think more about it. I do hope I made some sense.

    1. Fantastic comment! I think this deserves a blog post in its own right! Working towards a goal/treat doesn’t generally work for me either, but it is better at getting me started towards doing something I don’t care about. Even if I don’t actually treat myself (I’m two weeks late in buying myself a cake I promised after getting through a project), it’s a little bit of a guiding light, you know? Like if you just make plans for something exciting even if it isn’t concrete, say looking up websites for places you’d like to travel in the near future, that can improve your mood and motivate you to do work you don’t think you’re going to enjoy.

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