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It’s after midnight and the textbooks haphazardly thrown around your desk are illuminated only by the computer screen you’ve been staring at all day. Empty Monster Energy drinks line the table beside you and you sigh: “Tomorrow, I’m getting ice cream. I deserve to treat myself.” 

This year, arguably more so than years past, the so-called “treat yourself culture” has expanded far beyond what was once a reward-based mentality, where we used self-assurance to continue grinding through some sort of undesirable task. Now, the vernacular of “treating yourself” has become less about rewards and more about stress-induced indulgence. However, this growth mindset is a reflection of something deeper; it represents the more deep-seated issues with the stress we — students, adults and even children — regularly put ourselves under. Instead of feeling the need to constantly “treat ourselves,” perhaps we need to instead incorporate more into our daily lives that serves us.

This “treat yourself” culture is not something that has to be viewed as the antithesis of “hustle culture.” In fact, I think that is the root of the problem entirely. We have been bred to believe that if something is not amounting in trials and tribulations, then it isn’t hard enough work or we should be doing more. Especially at a top university like the University of Michigan, I constantly find myself wanting to do more. I want more credits, a higher grade point average and more responsibilities I’ll later use as conversation topics in interviews. 

This innate drive is by no means a bad thing. We all are trying to eventually land in a place where we can relax and live a more enjoyable life. However, there are a lot of problems with this logic. Without sounding completely hopeless and pessimistic, it is possible that the future we envision in our twenties will not come to fruition. Instead, it is important to incorporate things that make us happy within the ebb and flow of work, school or life-induced stress. 

Psychology certainly supports this notion. Lauren Geall, a journalist for Stylist, discussed a new, related study in a recent article. Something that really resonated with me from the piece was this line: “The results (of the study) were clear – while having good self-control was positively associated with happiness, being able to indulge in life’s little pleasures without berating ourselves for doing so is just as important.” 

This reminded me of the Marie Kondo ideology or the KonMari method, but applying it to far more than decluttering. Maybe in order to truly treat ourselves, we should be actively engaging in more things that spark joy. For example, even if you have a hectic schedule of work and school, make time to stop by your favorite coffee shop or allot ten minutes to go on a walk outdoors. 

This past year has proven an old saying to be scarily true. The saying goes: “live every day as your last, for you never know what tomorrow will bring.” Waking up to a world in lockdown is not something that any of us could have imagined. In a flash, the world was closed for business, everything kept at a six-foot distance and away from arm’s reach. We all leaned on each other through technological and virtual means to keep afloat amid a time where isolation and fear reigned supreme. I was recently able to get fully vaccinated and the feeling I had was incomparable. It was almost as if every stress or bout of anxiety suffered throughout the past year had all combined and been washed away with the second shot in my arm. The world is far from back to normal, but the future is far brighter than it was not so long ago. This reflection has even further deepened my newly adopted philosophy of finding a middle ground between “hustle culture” and “treat yourself culture.” 

I cannot urge you, without being a hypocrite, to give up your late nights of studying, Monster Energy drinks and all (although, I actually prefer Bang Energy these days). I cannot, in good conscience, tell you to always choose to do something that makes you happy over something you have or should do. Frankly, this is just not the way life works. We have to endure the hard work and put in the time. If nothing else, it is a reminder that we are human. Like Lois Lowry’s “The Giver,” without pain, we’d also lose ecstasy and joy. It’s all about balance. And as the semester comes to a close and the Zoom meetings end, I encourage you to look back on what was arguably the weirdest year of our lives so far. 

Think about what made you stress. Think about what and who you leaned upon to alleviate some of that stress. As we enter normalcy step-by-step, I plan to try and find the gray area between hustle and indulgence for the year ahead. I will work hard and certainly have days that are nothing but stressful. 

However, instead of looking at everything I choose as a way to combat the stress as something to “treat myself,” I want to do things and choose things that provide me some form of happiness more regularly. Imagine how much happier we could be if the breakfast we ate with our morning coffee could be viewed as treating ourselves. 

In a very real way, this is genuinely true. Let’s find our middle ground and collaboratively try to make treating ourselves a far more common practice in the chaotic lives we lead. 

Jess D’Agostino is an Opinion Columnist and can be reached at