When we’re embarrassed over something we enjoy, we call it a “guilty pleasure.”
We laugh it off. We apologize. We wonder and worry what others will think of us.
For instance, you might say that your guilty pleasure is watching reality shows or eating ice cream in front of the TV or listening to certain singers or liking certain books or films or foods that you’d be mortified if anyone found out.
I’ve realized that I don’t like the term “guilty pleasure,” because it becomes another thing on an already long list of things we should feel bad about.
And it’s hard enough finding the time or the self-compassion to truly take a break, and unwind.
The term “guilty pleasure” comes with the inherent message that we can’t fully enjoy ourselves or embrace the things we like.
We get the message that we can’t fully relax into what brings us pleasure.
That we must feel guilty for the things that may be a salve for us on a rough day: the movie that makes us laugh; the music that uplifts us.
In short, this kind of perspective can sabotage our self-care.
The idea of a guilty pleasure reminds me of the rigidity, judgment and deprivation of the diet mentality: the shame surrounding eating “forbidden” foods; the promise of doing better tomorrow; the guilt over enjoying eating at all.
Like the diet mentality, a guilty pleasure suggests lack — a lack in ourselves. It robs us of relaxation, of ease.
In his excellent book Show Your Work: 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered, Austin Kleon has a section titled: “No guilty pleasures.”
He quotes Dave Grohl of Foo Fighters, who said: “I don’t believe in guilty pleasures. If you f—ing like something, like it.”
In the same section, Austin writes: “When you find things you genuinely enjoy, don’t let anyone else make you feel bad about it. Don’t feel guilty about the pleasure you take in the things you enjoy. Celebrate them.”
I love this advice. Because how often do you actually give yourself permission to feel pleasure? To celebrate your habits and hobbies and preferences?
In other words, don’t just stop apologizing for the things you like. Feast on them.
If an evening of Lifetime movies or Bravo reality shows and a bag of Funyuns feels restorative to you, then by all means, smile and savor.
If seeing Barry Manilow or some obscure band in concert inspires you, don’t feel weird about it or hesitate to get your tickets and t-shirt.
Don’t let the idea that certain likes, interests or hobbies aren’t cool or hip or sophisticated enough or _____ (fill in the blank) enough stop you from savoring something you really enjoy.
(The same goes for pretending to like things that you realize you really don’t. I did this for many years.)
Many of us feel guilty, as it is, when we have free time for ourselves. So when you finally do carve out that time, you don’t need to spend it shaming yourself or feeling bad about your preferences.
There’s no such thing as a guilty pleasure. Like what you like, and lean into that bliss. Freely. Fully.
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Last reviewed: 13 Mar 2014