If you’ve been on TikTok, Instagram, or X in the past year, you’ve probably become familiar with the term “sweet little treat” or some variation of it, such as “fun little drink.” The sweet little treat can be anything from a latte on your way to class or a pastry before running errands.

The phrase has held such dominance in social media rhetoric, it has become shorthand for ideas about life’s stressors and mental health. On TikTok, ‘getting a sweet little treat’ is used as a study break, a pick-me-up, and sometimes just a way of powering through the day. Sometimes, it has been tied in with the "girl dinner" trend, highlighting the need for a sweet to complete a meal. These videos are often made to be somewhat silly, sometimes even accompanied by the phrase, “I deserve a sweet little treat.”

Why is having a ‘sweet little treat’ our latest obsession? 

What counts as a sweet little treat?

A sweet treat has no limits. It can be a matcha latte, a donut, boba, a cookie, or ice cream. The possibilities are endless, and ultimately, a sweet treat is whatever you define it, as long it is something that you enjoy.

Creator Lexi Gibbons (@lexigibbons on TikTok) showed various occasions of her getting a sweet little treat, from an iced matcha latte to a frosted pastry. The caption reads, “My toxic trait is thinking I deserve a sweet little treat every time I leave my house.”

Videos like Lexi Gibbons’ tell us that in the context of social media, a sweet treat, in the most basic sense, is simply a tasty snack that often acts as an incentive or reward for a difficult task. That task can be anything from a big job interview to just simply getting out of bed. 

The reason behind the sweet little treat

Thousands of videos show people getting sweet treats as an act of kindness and self-care. 

Mel Douglas (@meldouglasyoga on TikTok) said it perfectly. “One thing about me is I’m a little treat girl to my very core. I don’t even make myself earn them because I’m practicing believing I’m inherently deserving of my kindness at all times. I want a little treat, I get a little treat. The end."

Sweet treats are also enjoyed for the sole purpose of ‘just because.’ I asked my followers in an anonymous Instagram story forum whether or not they habitually have a sweet little treat, and why they do. In response to the question, “Why do you enjoy a sweet little treat?” a follower responded, “Because I’m a girl! And it’s my god given right.”

Others don’t take their sweet treat too seriously, using a fun drink as a vessel to get a quick caffeine fix. Another follower replied, “Yes. My Nespresso machine is put to work.” When prompted why they enjoy it, they simply replied, “Caffeine addiction.”

Another responded, remarking that their sweet treat is actually helpful to their eating habits. “Eating is hard sometimes,” they said. “A sweet treat makes it worth it.”

Someone echoed a similar sentiment, stating their reason behind the treat is to reward themselves.

“It makes me happy although it is fleeting,” someone else responded. “It’s like a reward.”

It appears that treat culture is enjoyed by most — whether it's for the sake of caffeine or more of a kind gesture to oneself, sweet treat-ers embrace their treats as a part of their routine. It’s something people enjoy falling back on, regardless of whatever else is going on in their lives.

Why do we love treats, anyway?

In social media spaces that can often feel negative and draining, the sweet little treat trend provides some relief. It’s a playful, goofy trend that we can participate in and laugh about.

And, with almost half of college students reporting symptoms of depression according to the National Center on Safe Supportive Learning Environments (NCSSLE), a sweet treat can also be a ritual, a routine to fall back on even if the rest of life is going awry. While a $5 croissant won’t erase your problems, it can be something to lighten the load of the day that doesn’t expend all of your energy.

People are embracing the frivolous through their sweet treats. The simple act of buying your coffee or going out for ice cream is not anything huge — it’s a way we can feel good, and that’s all the explanation one needs.

The sweet little treat, when used in moderation, can be a small, bite-sized piece of clarity, joy, and peace amidst the stressors of life. When things get tough, a treat here and there doesn’t hurt.