Let’s talk about Guilty Pleasures. Snatched moments of pleasure tinged with a guilty “I shouldn’t be doing this“ feeling, but going ahead with the juicy, delicious, feeling thing regardless. We all know what that feels like!
Shoot me now, but I would say that it’s usually the less happy amongst us that believe in indulging in “guilty pleasures”. Why? Because genuinely happy people do it differently. Happy people believe, quite simply, in enjoying their pleasures with no guilt attached.
I do a lot of speaking about wellbeing and happiness, and there is a question I get asked a lot on this exact guilty pleasures topic. At some point, I will inevitably and conspiratorially get asked “Do I have a wine sometimes?” as if it’s a guilty pleasure that I couldn’t possibly admit to indulging in. Here’s the answer I always give: OF COURSE I ENJOY A WINE SOMETIMES!!! Do I regularly get off my face like in my younger days before I was wellbeing pro? No. But do I get pleasure from a beautiful glass of wine over a meal, or with sharing confidences with a great girlfriend over a good ice-cold glass of Sav? Of course, I do. Do I feel guilty about it? No, I most certainly do not. It’s something I enjoy, and for me, it’s in balance with a healthy lifestyle, and it adds richness and enjoyment to my life. Why would I feel guilty about that? It’s all pleasure when I choose to do it, and I enjoy every sip.
We are MEANT to feel good! Why block that flow of pleasure? If something brings you genuine pleasure and is in alignment with your values – why not just enjoy it; suck every ounce of joy from it, guilt-free? A good life is about DISCERNMENT of what we put in, not DENIAL of all things enjoyable. When we wear the hair shirt of denial and cut ourselves off from stuff that brings joy, that’s when we feel the need to cheat ourselves and sneak in a guilty pleasure. How much better a place to come from, to be honest with ourselves about our sources of genuine joy and connection and to discerningly include them in our lives loud and proud, guilt-free.
Guilt can come in many guises. For example, guilt that comes up because we are acting unethically, or lying, or cheating or whatever – now that’s USEFUL GUILT. That’s guilt that is generated by our inner self to stop us breaching our own values and integrity. It’s a handbrake to give us pause – is this really the right choice for me? Is this choice in alignment with who I am? Now that’s useful guilt, very useful. Guilt is like this big red flashing “stop: think” sign just when we need it most.
Guilty pleasure though? Now that’s not a useful application of guilt. Feeling guilty because we are about to have a desert? Now that’s not useful.
Either 1) choose to have the desert and enjoy and savour the pleasure of every single mouthful.
Or, 2) discerningly choose not to have it and enjoy the feeling of restraint because that choice came from honouring your body’s signal of not being hungry or the commitment you made to yourself about eating less sugar, and enjoy the feeling of pride of honouring your body and your commitment.
But the guilty pleasure option 3) of having the cake AND swallowing it down with a nice big swig of guilt and a sprinkling of self-hate? Now that really is self-defeating. And that’s not really pleasure, is it? The emotional backlash neutralises the momentary pleasure. Eat the cake and love it, or don’t eat it and love that choice too. Just don’t eat it and feel guilty. When you think about it, it’s a ridiculous waste of emotional energy.
A lot of guilt pleasures are guilty because we don’t think other people would approve. Again, that’s a really erroneous application of guilt. If you like dancing round the kitchen to Taylor Swift then “so what” what anyone else thinks of your secret teen pop addiction! Whether it’s “cool” or age appropriate, or not – so what? If YOU like it and it brings YOU pleasure that’s good enough. You don’t need anyone else to approve or even understand. It’s just your thing. It’s your pleasure. It’s part of what makes you the gloriously quirky, unique individual you are. No need to feel guilty about THAT! Just enjoy whatever it is that’s your pleasure.Just enjoy whatever it is that’s your pleasure.
Ultimately guilt is a poisonous and superfluous attachment to pleasure. Why do that to yourself? Why mar a beautiful or pleasing thing, interaction or experience with the heavy emotion of guilt. If it pleases you, then make it pleasure, all the way. As the legendary rocker and Foo Fighters, front-man Dave Grohl said,
So, be unapologetic about what brings you pleasure, and include it with cunning regularity in your life. Guilt-free. ALLOW yourself pleasure – don’t try and try and SNEAK it into your own life through the back door like a stolen ciggie behind the bikesheds. Claim your pleasure in full.