What do you really “deserve”?

I’ve often heard people say things like “Screw it, I deserve a treat, I’m getting a cheeseburger”, or “I couldn’t really afford this new top, but you know what? I think I deserve it.”

And that’s totally fine if it’s only a once-off thing, but as a model for decision-making, it’s probably not the best.

Sure, you probably do deserve that cheeseburger, but don’t you also deserve to be healthy? And you might deserve that new top, but don’t you also deserve to feel financially secure?

Here’s why making purchase decisions in terms of what you “deserve” can be a bit of a slippery slope, and how it can put you at odds with self-care.

Self-care and advertising

As the concept of self-care has become more mainstream, more and more companies have learned to tap into it as a purchase motivator. The phrase “treat yourself” and similar slogans have become almost ubiquitous in advertising. “Because you’re worth it,” says L’Oréal. “You deserve the best,” insists Beats by Dre. “Why not treat yourself?” asks Qantas.

But these encouragements are disingenuous; rather than fostering healthy self-care practises, they actually exploit the power of the scarcity mindset. The scarcity mindset is the belief that there’s not enough for everyone, and if you don’t grab what you can now, there won’t be any left.

The insistence that you “deserve” this latest product carries the implication that by not purchasing it, you’re depriving yourself, and if you’re deprived, are you really taking good care of yourself? By asking “Why not treat yourself?” advertisers seek to align their product with the powerful idea that you’re not getting as much as you deserve.

And you know what? That’s probably true. But exactly what you deserve changes dramatically if you just tweak your perspective.

Taking the long view

Advertisers want us to think in the short-term, so it makes sense that, in order to blunt their influence, should look a little further down the road. One tactic that works for me is to remind myself that there are bigger concerns than whatever I feel I deserve in the present moment.

Whenever I feel tempted by a less-than-sound decision, I try to ask myself: “What do I really deserve?” The answers: a strong, healthy body; a sleep regimen that gives me the energy to do what I want; a bank balance that provides stability and security; strong and rewarding relationships.

These are the things worth striving for, the things that will bring lasting happiness and wellbeing. And I can’t buy them off the shelf. 

Focusing on abundance

At the other end of the spectrum from scarcity is the abundance mindset. This is the view that life is not a zero-sum game, that there is plenty for everyone and plenty more to come.

A useful way I’ve found to practice the abundance mindset is to invert negative statements like “I can’t afford this” to positive statements like “I deserve better than this.” A packet of chips? Nah, I deserve something better, like celery sticks or a protein smoothie. An unplanned video game purchase? Nah, I deserve to not stress about money, maybe next month. Spend an hour scrolling through social media? Hell no, I deserve to be relaxed, not distracted – I’ll stretch, meditate, or read a book instead.

When I look at life this way, I actually feel quite wealthy. There are a ton of fun, meaningful and/or healthy things for me to fill my days with, none of which cost very much, and all of which contribute toward my long-term wellbeing.

Self-care is more than self-indulgence

Although it might sometimes call for it, self-care is not solely about pampering yourself. At its core, self-care is about giving yourself the time and resources to be well-rested, clear-headed, strong-bodied and healthy. This may or may not include a relaxing bubble-bath, but it necessarily includes being responsible and not putting yourself under undue stress.

So, when you find a little voice telling you that you deserve to buy, eat or own something – be that little voice an advertisement or your brain’s reward centre – just remember that they’re wrong. You deserve better.

Joel Svensson is a Canberra-based writer originally from Melbourne. He’s written more latté-fuelled stories about first-world problems than he cares to admit, and can be found coping with misleading hashtags at @le0jay.