You know, that tiny little indulgence that you love but feel embarrassed about? The one you feel that little twinge of guilt over? What if you stopped beating yourself up about it? What would happen to your overall level of happiness?
During my year of focusing on contentment, I decided I was no longer going to feel guilty for things that make me happy. I mean, truly make me happy. It’s important to distinguish from things that feel good in the moment but, in reality, drain your happiness. But a lot of times, little guilty pleasures are relatively harmless when indulged in only occasionally.
Giving up my guilt over these four small indulgences has been liberating. It frees up space in my brain and heart for healthier and more important thoughts and emotions.
I used to pride myself on not being a TV watcher. I loved that I wasn’t tied down to watching “my show” on a certain night of the week. If coworkers invited me out for drinks after work, I could say yes without worrying that I’d miss an episode. We canceled our cable before it was cool.
But things started to change once we had kids. I don’t even have coworkers anymore because I quit my job to start my own business when Little Miss S was 6 months old. And even if I did have coworkers, I honestly wouldn’t want to skip out on dinner time with my family.
My husband and I eventually found ourselves wrapped up in a TV show, looking forward to every Sunday night when a new episode would air. At first, I felt a bit embarrassed about it. And I couldn’t believe it when we got cable. It was a long time before I’d admit to that willingly.
But last year I did a lot of soul searching and one of the things I realized is that my husband and I really, truly enjoy watching TV together. It’s a way for us to unwind at the end of a long day. Discussing our ideas and theories about what might happen next is a fun way for us to bond. No, it’s not hiking in the woods or attending a couples yoga class or taking ballroom dancing lessons together. But in this season of our life, with tiny kids who go to bed early and require lots of time and attention when they are awake, and jobs that challenge us mentally each day, watching TV is one way we like to relax and decompress. And honestly, by comparison it’s not the most unhealthy way we could choose.
If you know anything about anything when it comes to living a healthy lifestyle, it’s that sweets are bad. Not only are the calories high and nutritional content low, sweets usually have a lot of other icky ingredients, like artificial coloring and flavorings. And even when you eat all natural sweets, you can’t ignore those who say basic ingredients like sugar and flour are detrimental to your health.
But I’ve also learned that I am not the type of person who does well with completely eliminating something I enjoy from my diet. Gretchen Rubin would call me a “moderator” – a person who does better with allowing herself a treat every now and then rather than abstaining completely. When I know I can’t have cookies, all I want is cookies! Then I cave and eat ALL. THE. COOKIES.
When I know I can eat cookies any time I want, I don’t crave them so much. In fact, if I know I can have a cookie, I can actually think logically and objectively about how badly I want one. I can tell myself that it pretty much negates the workout I did that morning and choose not to eat one. I can also tell myself that it’s been a while since I’ve had a sweet treat and be ok with indulging on occasion. I don’t feel guilty about it.
On top of all of this, I’ve also adopted the mindset that eating healthy becomes UNhealthy when you start to obsessively and unnecessarily restrict your diet and when it steals your joy. So I let myself have cookies sometimes.
Sleep has become a recurring theme on my blog. I’ve talked about how getting enough sleep affects my work, my relationships, and my overall health. And I’ve always been one of those people who truly loves sleep.
But I used to feel so guilty if I slept in. Especially since having kids. If I woke up on a Saturday to see my bed empty, I knew it meant my husband got up with the kids and made them breakfast while I slumbered away. And I would jump out of bed, ready myself in a frenzy, and spend the rest of the day trying to make up for the fact that I “overslept”.
I don’t call it “oversleeping” anymore, unless I truly do need to get up at a certain time. That terminology alone puts me in the mental state of having done something wrong.
No, now I just call it sleeping in. And I know that if I didn’t wake up, my body wasn’t ready to wake up. And that’s ok.
When I worked a traditional nine-to-five job, I always felt guilty to take my vacation time. I would rationalize and reason and over-explain to my coworkers why I was taking the time off.
And when I first went back to work after Little Miss S was born, I would sorta-accidentally-on-purpose strategically schedule her checkups at times that would let me take a little extra time off to spend with her. That’s when I really knew I needed to leave that job. As a mom, I didn’t want to ever feel bad about taking time away from work to spend with my kids.
And quality time with my kids isn’t the only reason I might want an afternoon off work. Sometimes, I just need to be able to go get groceries alone or just take a nap! As a working mom, sometimes I just need a break. And I’ve come to realize that taking a break when I need one is an important part of self care and helps me be at my best for my work and, more importantly, for my family. So I don’t feel guilty about it.
In fact, I don’t allow myself to feel guilty about any of these things anymore. And I think it makes a big difference in my overall level of happiness. It’s work, and it’s important to keep it in check. If I allowed these little treats to myself to get out of control, they would work against me, actually decreasing my overall level of happiness. But in moderation, the effect is positive. Not only do the small treats give me a small level of happiness in the moment, the conscious effort to avoid needless guilt over treating myself gives me a bigger sense of inner peace. I encourage you to give it a try.
What guilty pleasures will you stop feeling guilty for? Share with me in the comments!