Treat yourself! How to balance avocado toast and happiness

None of us are saints.

The more someone brags how pious, frugal, law-abiding, or faithful they are, the more likely they are to have some major skeletons in their closet. As the saying goes, “every accusation is a confession” – and the corollary might also be true: “every boast is an insecurity.”

It’s tempting – ever so tempting – to dive into the deep end of the pool, to embrace a new hobby (in this case, frugality) with open arms and do it non-stop and 24/7. Who knows, if you’re surrounded by a bunch of likeminded people (in a commune, or in a cult compound, or in a monastery), that just might work. If you’re like the rest of us, though, it’ll probably be only a matter of time before you snap back and end up overcompensating by consuming even more than you would have otherwise.

I’m not any sort of mental health professional, so – as always – take what I write with a giant grain of salt. (That’s a good approach to everything you read, actually, and not just on this blog.) In my personal and admittedly anecdotal experience, going completely ascetic and trying to be a modern-day Spartan in all things, all the time, generally backfires. If you try to eat perfectly healthy 24/7, you might find yourself devouring a quart of ice cream next to your freezer under the cover of 4am darkness, glancing around furtively like the foodie fugitive that you are. If you go from a couch potato to exercising every single day, there’s a good chance you’ll get tired of it and then rebound by lounging around even more than before.

Everything should be balanced. None of us are saints. You’re probably familiar with the “avocado toast” meme. It started in 2017, when a real estate millionaire Tim Gurner said, “When I was trying to buy my first home, I wasn’t buying smashed avocado for $19 and four coffees at $4 each.” Through some editorial headline magic, it appeared as if Gurner told Millennials to stop buying avocado toast if they want to afford a house. The headline attracted a lot of rage-clicks, and meme-makers made it go viral. I’ll be honest, I joined the meme too: I ironically made avocado toast for lunch at work on multiple occasions afterwards. (I’m not a hipster, except when I am.)

Great, now I want avocado toast. And strawberries. And maybe a milkshake.

None of us are saints. Everyone deserves nice things, though “nice” is a subjective term, and too much of it can dilute its effect. If you have your favourite dessert (or even avocado toast) for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every single day, the novelty will wear off. It’ll become just a staple, just a recurring sensation instead of a much-anticipated experience. (In more mundane terms, compare a kid’s reaction to chocolate the day after Halloween vs if they haven’t had any chocolate in days.) Frequent repetition causes dilution causes expectation causes familiarity causes contempt. For me, champagne and red caviar on a perfectly toasted slice of bread is the height of decadence. For somebody else, their reaction might be “caviar and champagne? Again? Ugh.” Everything is relative, eh.

One of my favourite sitcoms is Parks and Recreation. There’s an excellent season 4 episode called “Treat Yo’ Self.” Two main characters showed off their annual tradition –  one day a year when they treat themselves to shopping, massages, fine leather goods, etc. That’s an excellent idea, and would make for a great national holiday. The only problem is, if you do that too often, you might end up with massive credit card debt – and you might not even feel all that great after the first few giant shopping trips. (And hell, even if you can afford it, the amount of happiness will decrease with every short-term repetition.) 

Ditto for daily purchases like, say, a $5 Starbucks latte. (Are they still $5? I have this sneaking suspicion that they’re a lot more than $5 now.) Does it actually make you happy, aside from giving the much-needed caffeine boost? Or is that something you just do out of habit, or to earn reward points, or to fit in with your colleagues? Would it maybe make more sense to brew your own coffee instead? If your daily latte really does fill you with joy every single time, then kudos. Otherwise, maybe you can reevaluate it.

None of us are saints. I’m definitely not a saint either. My big flaw is pastries. During my 3.5 years in Seattle, there was a Whole Foods store just a few blocks away from work. I was making about $17/hour (very fancy, I know), but once or twice a week I’d go there and splurge $8 + tax on four poppyseed buns. They were definitely pricey, but they were giant, filling, and delicious. I’d end up making R-rated faces as I slowly (ever so slowly) devoured them over a cup of coffee. (Work coffee or just the basic stuff at home – I’m not made of money, eh.) I’d stretch each four-pack over two days, resulting in a delicious dinner and breakfast. It wasn’t the healthiest food (unless you compare it to, say, KFC), but it brought me happiness every single time. Alas, at some point, and for some unknown reason, Whole Foods stopped selling that pinnacle of culinary science, and I’ve been on a quest for it ever since.

These days, I treat myself with a bit of dessert (whatever is on sale, like the dark chocolate that was sold for $1/bar a few weeks ago) each day, and I spice up my otherwise-boring weekly grocery shopping with a cheap bottle of red wine (I can’t taste the difference) and one frozen pizza – to be cooked when I’m celebrating my stock gains, or running low on food, or just lazy and self-indulgent. I also make sure to go out once a week, to one of my favourite local restaurants that have amazing food, gigantic portions, and lovely ambiance for remarkably low cost.

If I hadn’t done those things, my lifestyle would’ve been a bit cheaper but a whole lot less fun. This is the balance that works for me: yours might look entirely different. None of us are saints. All of us are individuals, and all of us have cravings of different sort. What are yours? How did you find your balance? Sound off in the comments – I’m always curious to hear from you.

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