Why Everyday Luxuries Help Make Us Happier

assorted-color flowers on brown wicker basket

In her memoir Plant Dreaming Deep, poet May Sarton wrote: “If someone asked me what my idea of luxury is, I think my answer would be: flowers in the house all year round.”

This question caught my imagination: What’s my idea of luxury?

For me, luxury means buying books instead of getting them from the library, ordering a soft drink in a restaurant, splurging on a terrific set of magic markers or book of stickers (like this John Derian book), using a lotion warmer, and spending more for a fancy face lotion (my favorite is Embryolisse Lait-Crème Concentré, because it has a beautiful smell and great texture).

I was curious to hear from other people about their favorite everyday luxuries, so I asked readers and listeners to weigh in.

In reviewing the list, it struck me that many of the answers don’t cost much—or anything at all—yet enjoying a modest “luxury” can dramatically boost our feelings of comfort and pleasure.

I was also struck by the fact that I also took a lot of satisfaction in suggestions such as crushed ice, an electric kettle, and frothy milk, but I’d never thought of them as luxuries. Now that I’ve them the label of “luxuries,” I enjoy them more.

In my book Better Than Before, I describe the 21 strategies we can use to make or break our habits—and the most popular strategy is the “Strategy of Treats.”

When we give ourselves treats, we feel energized, cared for, and contented, which boosts our self-command—and self-command helps us maintain our healthy habits.

When we don’t get any treats, we begin to feel burned-out, depleted, and resentful. We start to feel deprived, which isn’t a good frame of mind for good habits.

For that reason, it’s helpful to identify healthy treats to give ourselves, and luxuries (chosen wisely) are a form of healthy treats.

They also make great gift ideas!

Especially if you’re buying a present for under-buyers who, if they’re anything like me, often resist buying things, especially items with very specific purposes (I would never buy myself a lotion warmer; my sister Elizabeth gave me it as a gift).

One more striking fact about luxuries: they delight our five senses with beautiful fragrance,  flavors, textures, sounds, and sights. In my book Life in Five Senses, I write about how we can tap in to our senses—and by giving us luxury, they give us a sense of vitality.

Because these are luxuries we experience every day, it can be easy for them to fade out of awareness. We need to remind ourselves how much we love the view from our big window, or how much we appreciate the convenience of our electric kettle, so we won’t take everyday luxuries for granted.

Readers and listeners enjoy these everyday luxuries:

  • Humidifier in the bedroom
  • High-quality body lotion
  • Silk pillowcases or sleeping mask
  • Electric kettle
  • Insulated water bottle in a favorite color
  • Candlesticks
  • Monogrammed handkerchief
  • Silence
  • Big windows, natural light
  • Enjoying good food, a glass of wine, and deep conversation with a loved one
  • Being in nature, near water or in a forest
  • A chocolate chip cookie at the end of the day
  • Portable or wearable fan
  • A cup of coffee or tea in a favorite mug
  • An end-of-day ritual, such as reading or watching the sun set
  • Crushed ice–many people reported ice-related luxuries!
  • A walk alone
  • Plans made by someone else
  • Fresh, homemade bread (and the time to make it)
  • Good wine glasses and cloth napkins
  • Pre-washed, pre-cut fruit
  • Milk frother
  • Sitting by a fire (or lighting candles) with a glass of wine or hot chocolate
  • Listening to classical music while cleaning house
  • Big, soft, fluffy hotel-style towels
  • Clean sheets
  • Good cheese and chocolate
  • High-quality kitchen tools
  • Massage
  • Heated blanket
  • Naps
  • Real, fresh butter and good olive oil
  • Coffee-table books
  • Lying by the pool or on the beach
  • New perfume
  • A day trip
  • Paying to rent a movie you want to see rather than choosing one that’s free
  • Notebooks and pens
  • Car seat and steering wheel warmers
  • Hiring a house cleaner
  • Attending a live concert or play
  • Lipstick
  • Eating outside
  • Buying plane tickets based on convenience rather than cost
  • A fridge with an ice and water dispenser
  • Grocery or meal delivery
  • Using the silver, china and crystal reserved for special occasions
  • Shoes that fit properly
  • Grinding coffee beans and brewing coffee at home
  • Staying at a bed-and-breakfast
  • A farmers market splurge
  • Handmade soap
  • Being able to afford to donate to a cause
  • Sleeping in—not waking up to the sound of an alarm
  • Eating something you grew yourself
  • The perfect reading light
  • Keyless entry on your house
  • Art supplies
  • Having multiples of essentials like phone chargers and reading glasses
  • Cloth napkins
  • Paying for a friend’s meal

Is there a modest splurge or upgrade that might make (or has already made) your routine easier? A small luxury that makes your day more enjoyable?

When we give more to ourselves, we can ask more from ourselves. For that reason, everyday luxuries can help us to live happier, healthier lives. And note: this doesn’t mean reckless consumerism! Many people’s luxuries cost little or nothing.

Because of the helpful role that luxuries can play, it’s a good idea to find a way to give ourselves everyday luxuries—and not expect other people to supply them.

I’m reminded of some lines from the poem “You Learn” by Jorge Luis Borges:

So you plant your garden and decorate your own soul,
Instead of waiting for someone to bring you flowers.

If for me—like May Sarton—my idea of luxury is “flowers in the house,” I can buy myself a bouquet.

Which reminds me of another quotation, from Émilie du Châtelet: “Let us choose for ourselves our path in life, and let us try to strew that path with flowers.”

Let us strew our path with flowers, or naps, or crushed ice.



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