Guilty Pleasure

Why is it so difficult to enjoy ourselves without feeling guilty? Like my grandfather’s prescription for wine and spaghetti, at times you have to let yourself go and “just enjoy”.

In a study of ninety-six volunteers, Arthur Stone, Ph.D., a psychologist from the State University of New York, found that pleasant events such as dinner with friends or a weekend hike in the woods gave a boost to the immune system that lasted for two to three days. In contrast, a stressful encounter such as an argument with a boss or spouse had a lesser effect, slightly depressing the immune system for just one day. It appears that the absence of ordinary pleasures may take an even greater toll on our health than stress does.

Remember that pleasure can go from the sublime to the ridiculous, from simple to sumptuous, and from free to expensive. It is not our budget that limits us but our minds. Have a “real” ice cream cone with sprinkles, or, God forbid a hot fudge sundae. Take a garden tour, or a hot air ballon ride, go for a manicure or ask a friend to give you one. Or go to two movies in one day.

One of my favorite pleasures is waking up early and sitting in my cozy bedroom chair while I sip a hot cup of coffee brought to me by my loving partner. The aroma, the chair, the windows which look out into my garden are all deeply rewarding. I love watching the birds swoop through the yard and seeing the squirrels running around squawking at each other. I spent years in my garden, weeding, clipping, and hauling dirt and rocks to create what is now a magical place. I cannot do what I used to do since my joints rebel. However, I still amble through the paths and pick the obtrusive weeds even though I know my back will not be happy. The joy still outweighs the pain.

One of my ultimate sources of pleasure is making fresh spaghetti sauce from scratch, cooking some spaghetti, and sitting down to fabulous results—liberally sprinkled with Parmesan of course. I can never eat spaghetti unless it is has a monumental amount of cheese on it. My grandmother and mother would admonish me any time they caught me re-sprinkling. They felt I was disrespecting their sauce. After all how was I going to taste it when I covered it up with cheese?

I’m afraid their messages of guilt didn’t sink in. I have continued to this day to be a lover of Parmesan cheese.

Don’t let life pass you by without indulging in some daily pleasure. There will always be work to do, errands to run, and responsibilities galore. But without the respite of pleasurable moments, life can feel like a stress rehearsal.


Be the CEO of your own thoughts and spread the guilt elsewhere!

 Think of all the times in your life you’ve berated yourself for doing something wrong. I bet that most of those instances weren’t particularly serious—that is they weren’t life threatening or particularly harmful to anyone—but the level of self-flagellation was brutal. Many of us just seem to be incredibly adept at beating ourselves up and feeling guilty about everything. Unfortunately, we can also have some individuals, usually family members, who could be the curators of the Smithsonian Institute. They have kept files of your wrongdoings and periodically remind you of them, which only adds to your angst.

     It’s important to realize that some guilt is useful; after all, it helps form a conscience. Those who have none are called psychopaths. Guilt can be useful in stopping us from being unethical in our business practices or mean spirited toward those we love. But leaving dishes in the sink, not making the bed, or taking time out for yourself does not fall into the same category. Some of us are not only passengers on the guilt mobile, but we also spend time ruminating over our feelings of guilt. Ruminating seems to be more inherent in the female species. I think that comes from years of conditioning that leads us to believe we need to take care of everyone. When we can’t fulfill the quota, we take on the mantle of guilt.

     There have been many books written about why some of us seem to have more of a propensity toward feeling guilty, and I’m not talking about egregious acts. Some of us have acquired a whole host of individuals that reside in our minds that continually chastise us about what we haven’t done. Our family of origin can be a huge purveyor of messages that train us to feel that nothing we do is enough. However, we cannot hang our hat on that forever. Discovering and challenging ourselves to create our own value system is part and parcel of becoming an autonomous human being. Work on becoming the CEO of your own thoughts. Spending time feeling guilty over what we haven’t done on a daily basis is exhausting and deprives us of living consciously and in the present. When the guilty chatter starts rattling around in your head, counter those voices with an assertive comeback, Say, ”Look, I may have had some failures in life, and I acknowledge them.  But I’m a decent person , trying to do the best I can, so spread your guilt elsewhere!

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