We often feel shame in admitting that we ate a whole Toblerone bar or indulged in a large pizza. I found it curious but continued feeling this way until recently. You see, I discovered a passion for dark chocolate which has many benefits for health compared to its less bitter milky variety cousins.
I am talking about the real deal 85% to 95% cocoa content bars for grown-ups. There is nothing really to feel guilty about dark chocolate. It is packed with nutrients, antioxidants and may prevent aging, sunburns and heart attacks. it’s basically a superfood that is only short of not making you fly. Though I still felt the need to justify my new habit to people who saw me chomping on this delicious goodness.
Why is that? It is almost like there is a jury of judges who keep keeping a watchful eye on your waistline, how hungover you are or what you are wearing.
This feeling of shame further cements the idea that some foods or pass time activities are wrong only making the rebel demand more of them at the moment of weakness. You know the rebel that speaks to you when you are tired in the evening after a busy day and Uber Eats is just a touch away?
So Why Do We Feel Guilty About Some Pleasures?
Apparently, not all pleasures are bad for instance there is a socially acceptable simple pleasure. Stuff like freshly changed sheets or walking on the grass barefoot. They may look great on dating app profiles but I always suspect a cover-up of empty pizza boxes and binge-watching of Netflix on weekends. Yes, I use them too.
There are social, physical, and intellectual pleasures basically anything can be a joy if it makes your brain tickle. The line is usually drawn at what may be harmful or socially unacceptable by others. Society expects us to behave in a certain way and this is dependent on the culture of the country or group of people.
For instance in Australia drinking before 12 PM is considered taboo but in Germany having a drink before noon on Sunday has even a special word for it. Frühschoppen is translated as “having a drink with friends before midway.” Now you know where to get a Stein of lager at 10 AM without getting unapproving looks from someone who is having their breakfast pancakes at the same time.
Another example from my own life was my grandma who always tried to feed me extra food when I was visiting. She would express her concerns about my health to Mum saying that I looked too skinny. Then there was a time when I tried to lose an extra tire around my waist she complimented me on finally looking like a normal person. What is considered a norm today might not have been years back.
We internalise the jury of judges’ voices by being told and shown that certain behaviours or looks are not desirable in our childhood. Once we pass into adulthood we don’t even need unapproving looks. A self-sufficient guilt machine can shame you without actual people lecturing you on extra calories or a flavour of the day’s inappropriate behaviour.
The feeling of guilt can also arise from a belief that we are not good enough to deserve pleasure. This is also often programmed into our brains as a part of upbringing or during defining moments of our life story.
Why Feeling Guilty About Pleasures is Bad
Now that we discussed the origins of the negative feelings let’s talk about what it does to you. Spoiler alert – none of it is good.
Being Constantly Watched By Internal Critics
Walking around with fun police living in your head is not healthy. Imagine if it was an actual person following you and commenting on every chip you ate, money spent on non-essential items or waking up too late.
Guilt May Cause Anxiety And Blowouts
Unlike removing unwanted tenants the voices in your head may be harder to evict. They will continue their work causing anxiety and blowouts. What happens if you restrict calories until your body decides it had enough? A massive binge on all the wrong things like buckets of KFC chicken and boxes of doughnuts. The same can happen with saving money or restricting drinking. The guilt monster can’t be kept locked in the cage forever.
It Is Useless In Addressing An Issue (If there is one)
Guilt applied blindly can also be inaccurate. Eating whole chocolate bars is supposedly unhealthy but this French lady lived 122 years eating a kilo per week. Irrespective of whether she might have inflated her nevertheless impressive longevity by 20 years dark chocolate has many health benefits.
Restrictions driven by guilt will also get in the way of life. Instead of enjoying pizza and beer with friends once in a while you will have a tendency of rejecting invitations to go out. Soon the social isolation will settle in when friends will get tired of failed attempts to get your time.
What to Do Instead Of Feeling Guilty
Enjoyment of living is a natural process. Suppressing it will cause negative self-talk, overindulging blowouts, and punishing yourself. After scaring you enough I think this is the right time for us to discuss what is the right way of experiencing pleasure.
Fire The Judges
Firstly we will be moving away from listening to the judges unless you are doing it on purpose. There are cases when we want honest constructive criticism of our actions. A career development, learning a new skill or getting help with picking the right clothes (Men sometimes need a wake-up call on the latter). Assuming that you are a grownup adult with common sense, in the majority of scenarios, you are perfectly capable to be your own critic.
Stop hanging out with negative Nancies where possible. It may be difficult to change the status quo or stop seeing friends because you’ve known each other for a long time. But if you want to continue feeling mediocre after hanging out with someone it is on you.
Moving away from the external evaluation of your life actions is like replacing a radar on a plane midflight. Don’t worry once you develop your internal navigation system you will not be flying blind.
See The Reality Objectively
This is easier said than done especially with conflicting messages coming from seemingly reputable sources, the internet and news.
Examples like that make will make your head spin in confusion. “Sugar is bad but natural sugar is good.” “Fats were thought to be bad but now research shows they are actually good.” “Investing in real estate and running AirBnB will guarantee your early retirement.” “The short-term accommodation market is in trouble and investors are losing money.”
To assess your life objectively you need to focus on the long term using credible sources. Over time you will create your own sense of what is right for you.
Another crucial element is absolute honesty with yourself on how certain pleasures affect your life. Suffering from addiction people use many reasons to justify dangerous habits. Realising that our own view of ourselves is biased and reaching out to someone who you trust for an honest opinion should be a part of your arsenal.
If you find that your pleasures moving into overindulgent territory find a way to replace them with useful and healthy options. I have a sweet tooth and had a tendency to consume way too much sugar than I should in the past. I found that over time that it was making me lethargic. A low-carb diet helped with sugar cravings and swapping regular chocolate with dark 85% cocoa made this a healthy habit.
Ditch The Toxic Crowd And Find Your Tribe
A supportive social network is important for resilience and well-being. It may be difficult to make new friendships with people that share the same values as we grow older. But the effort involved in building new connections is nothing compared to the cost of toxic relationships. I wrote a guide on how to meet new friends using social networks to get you started.
Learn To Overcome Adversity
You will never be able to make everyone you come across happy. Every successful leader has his raving fans and loud opponents. Steve Jobs was called a different thinker who changed the world and a verbally abusive a-hole and a terrible boss. Because by firing judges you become the leader of your own life this applies to you too.
Some will approve of your actions. Some even close family members will be putting pressure on you to change. Reframing their thinking and learning to object should be part of the strategy. It also helps to have a vision and stay resilient to criticism by practising self-care rather than self-punishment.
I hope reading this inspired you to find a way of silencing unhelpful external critics and negative self-talk. Learning how to discern between harmful indulging and healthy pleasures will help with evicting guilt from your head.
This may not be an easy way as you may need to update your circle of friends and learn to trust your own voice but it’s possible.
Let me know about your pleasures that may be seen as guilty by others and how this may be affecting the way you feel. Also if you enjoyed this please subscribe to my weekly newsletters.