Guilty Pleasures: Take a Bite and Let it Go

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 Scott Todnem
I’m not really sure when I noticed guilt start to seep into parts of life I enjoyed. At some point I guess it just existed.

Guilt seems to grow unnoticed amidst things that bring us happiness, like a weed in the front lawn, fed indirectly by the rain and sun. “Poof!” All of the sudden it’s there, all loud and proud. A guilty pleasure. Sticking out like a dandelion, tall and shining bright for our judgmental neighbors to see.

At what age do we learn there are certain things that aren’t cool to like?

Is this something we’re taught, indirectly or otherwise, because of our age, or gender, or other societal norms? It seems so. It’s almost like there’s something larger behind it all– a sad and unfair expectation in life of what do do and how to do it, what to like and how to like it.

Normal kid activities fall by the wayside with age; that’s to be expected. Adolescence and adulthood bring maturity that naturally cut off previous childhood obsessions. Cartoons, sledding, legos, water slides, action figures, candy, video games, stuffed animals… you name it. And all with friends. Childhood enjoyment has no boundaries, until the hyper-critical, disapproving looks and comments of our peers condemn those who find happiness in the little things.

Through teenage years and beyond, what is accepted by others greatly determines our own interests.

This could be true with anything, but pop culture particularly fits the bill, doesn’t it? You’re only allowed to enjoy what music, movies, and other hobbies your peers accept. Don’t show someone a book you’re reading unless it’s trendy. Don’t be caught dead in a car sing-a-long unless it’s popular. And never, under any circumstances, think something is cool unless your friends do.

Yet just as childhood enjoyment fades away, other items take its place. Think about what adults enjoy, and what takes up the majority of our time. Our career? Sure. But what other things exist as time-consumers? Relationships. Sports. Technology. Hobbies. Notice, this isn’t much different than our childhood after all. In fact, the game changes, but the players stay the same.

We migrate towards that which makes us happy. And we find content in similar places from childhood– friendships, games, books, music, movies, maybe the TV or internet. So it only makes sense that outside of the workplace, and maybe even within the workplace as well, we still find enjoyment in the same type of items that were key in our developmental years.

Which means, perhaps our guilty pleasures are linked in some way to the days of yesteryear.

Our guilt only stems from thinking it’s uncool or socially unacceptable to like what it is we are currently eating, watching, reading, or listening to. It’s a comparison to those around us. According to expectations, we know what things we should be doing, whether it’s for our health and longevity, or as an aside, as a pastime. But what brings us temporary joy may not be those items at all. It may be the exact opposite. Which is where the guilt comes in.

Let’s hypothetically say that someone enjoys donuts. Or that their favorite movies to watch, alone or with kids, are Pixar films. Just hypothetically speaking, of course. For example purposes, we’ll pretend this is a friend of ours… we’ll name him Scott.

What is keeping Scott from enjoying these things? The guilt from extra calories? Maybe. The guilt of being seen cracking up (or tearing up) because of Disney characters? Perhaps. Or is it something even deeper, like letting it be known that he secretly likes these items despite his hesitation to support big chain corporations? That secretly finding enjoyment in these examples would mean he likes the same things that his 5-year-old son likes? That deep down these items don’t mesh with a grown-up view of the world. Adults work. Adults don’t take pleasure in simple things. And if they do? Shame. Adults should like adult things, and everything else should be left behind as useless used to be’s.

Whatever the reasons for our guilty pleasures, they all seem silly if we put life in perspective. Happiness comes from within. Guilty pleasures are therefore a push-back against the coercion to fit in. And one choice, like one donut or one movie, does not define you. It didn’t define you as a kid, and it doesn’t define you as an adult.

So sit back and enjoy. Build a fort. Read the comics. Mix a suicide fountain drink. Sing your little heart out to Frozen.

Just make sure to wipe that chocolate off your face before facing the world after lunch.

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