TikTokers Refuse To Give Up Their "Little Treat” Culture

Go ahead. Get the latte.

If you’re a millennial, then you know it’s pretty much impossible to get through the day without buying yourself a little something. Running errands? Time for an iced coffee. Sluggish in the afternoon? Better get a bagel. Feeling down? A new lip balm will cheer you up. On TikTok, this is called “little treat” culture — and it’s a lifestyle so many folks happily follow.

When it comes to treat culture, IYKYK. But if you don’t, it’s basically the phenomenon of indulging in small, inexpensive pleasures as a way to get a much-needed boost of happiness and satisfaction. Treats can turn a bad day around and make a good day even better. A prime example: TikTok creator @thebookshelfbitch treated herself one afternoon to a $8.40 latte, just because it was Friday and she wanted it. Her philosophy? You’re worth the money — and everyone in her comments section agreed. One person wrote, “Little treats make the world go round. We deserve it!” while another said, “Treats are way better than owning a home.” It’s a mood.

The comments under TikToker @jordxnlewis’ video on treat culture also spell it out. One person wrote, “I have this thing called drink tax. Anytime I go somewhere I have to get something to drink”. Another noted, “Especially if it’s under $10, for some reason it doesn’t count.”

Some folks simply can’t imagine a life without a random $5 hand soap from Trader Joe’s or an iced Venti Caramel Macchiato on a hot summer day. In the grand scheme of things, these purchases are small, but in the moment they mean everything.

If you ever doubt your need for a little reward, know that there’s actually a science-backed benefit to treating yourself. “When we treat ourselves, our brains release dopamine, a neurotransmitter that is associated with pleasure,” says Dr. Elizabeth Campbell, licensed psychologist, marriage and family therapist, and career counselor. As you toss the hand soap into your cart, you’ll feel a mini burst of joy that quite literally improves your mood.

Treat culture also serves as an incentive for getting stuff done, which is a must when you’re checking mundane chores off your to-do list. Sure, you don’t need to get yourself a matcha on your way home, but it certainly makes the experience more fun. According to clinical psychologist Aura De Los Santos, treat culture is a form of self-care, as well as a way to break up your normal routine. It’s why the call of the treat is strong mid-afternoon when you’ve hit a slump. It’s nothing a chocolate croissant won’t fix.

On TikTok, @mckinelyeyelaine casually suggested giving up little treat culture as a way to save money — and their comments immediately flooded with panic, shock, and dread. One person said their brain short-circuited at the idea while another claimed they would not be able to live without little treats. You can tell they’re only half joking.

Of course, it’s a good idea to stick to a budget in a way that works for you. If it doesn’t hurt your bank account to get a cold brew, then go ahead and get a cold brew. If it’s better to treat yourself every other day — or once a week — do that.

As Campbell says, treat culture can be a healthy way to add moments of joy to your life. The rush that comes from buying an over-priced oat milk matcha is real, after all.

Studies referenced:

Grelle, K. (2023). The Generation Gap Revisited: Generational Differences in Mental Health, Maladaptive Coping Behaviors. J Adult Dev. doi: 10.1007/s10804-023-09442-x.

Xie, A. (2022). Who Can Get More Happiness? Effects of Different Self-Construction and Experiential Purchase Tendency on Happiness. Front Psychol. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2021.799164.


Dr. Elizabeth Campbell, licensed psychologist, licensed marriage and family therapist, certified career counselor

Aura De Los Santos, clinical psychologist, educational psychologist