Our Noble Pursuits

Living the good life. And writing about it.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Guilty Displeasures

I’m reading a book right now that is inspiring me to do some thinking.  I know, I know.  Watch out, right?  And thanks to my lovely sister-in-law, Abi, for sending this book to me…you have no idea what you have started.  The book is The Happiness Project and it chronicles the writer’s year-long quest to be happier (for more on the book and the project, check out her accompanying blog here).  To put it simply, I identify with this concept and can’t stop thinking of ways to apply it to my own life.

Now, make no mistake, I consider myself to be a happy person.  But am I as happy as I could be?  As I should be?  I have a remarkably blessed life.  The kind of blessed life that sometimes brings tears to my eyes at the most random of moments, just because I am overcome with what I have.  It is truly the life I have always wanted.  So why, then, do I find myself spending more time than I should thinking about what annoys me, what frustrates me, or what could be slightly “better”?  Well, because I’m human, of course.  But just because it is common practice to apply the whole grass is always greener approach to life doesn’t make it right. 
Who wouldn't be happy with this face around?
So I have recently started identifying areas in my life where I have formed a bad habit of sabotaging my own happiness.  And since I decided when I started this blog that I would sometimes use it to process some not-so-easy stuff, I decided to share one of those areas (and perhaps more down the road).  Area #1 where I wreak havoc on my own happiness? Guilt.  Sounds like a fun topic, doesn’t it?  (My tongue is firmly planted in my cheek with that question, just so you know.)

I feel guilty for lots of things, and when I really look at them I find that they fall into two categories: things I just need to get over and let go of and things I need to do something about.  In the first camp are things like (and these are all stories for another time, really) feeling guilty for taking Annie to daycare (although she loves it, we love it, and from all appearances the people who care for her love it), feeling guilty for switching Annie from breast milk to formula, and feeling guilty about the fact that I pay hundreds of dollars in student loans each month for an education that equipped me for a profession I am now trying to separate myself from.  These are all things I just need to get over.  Decisions that have been made – all of them, I believe, with positive results for my family and for my personal well being.  Topics I just need to stop obsessing over. They are all areas of either personal or societal conflict or controversy, but they are decisions I would make exactly the same way were I to do it all over again.  I am realizing that the mommy guilt, professional guilt, and various other forms of guilt I feel over these topics is accomplishing nothing more than zapping my happiness.  So now is the time to get over it.  Let it go.  Move on, already!  Certainly easier said than done, but a simple enough solution to identify.
Annie says, "Get over it, Mama!"
The second category of guilt-inducing topics is a little harder to deal with because they involve actual action on my part.  These are things like feeling guilty for nagging my husband, guilt that is inspired by my failure to get out of the house each day to run, and guilt that comes from putting another box of Pop Tarts in the shopping cart when I know how very bad they are for me (but those chocolate ones must have crack in them, because I can’t stop eating them).  These sources of guilt are all within my realm of control.  But instead of stopping my bad behaviors, I just continue to practice them and then feel guilty about it later.  Or at the exact moment I’m doing it, as in the case of nagging David and buying Pop Tarts.  So what’s a girl to do?

Well, the first step for me is identifying the problem.  Hello, my name is Sarah and I am a guilt-aholic.  And because I can’t do anything without an excruciating amount of self-examination, I have been searching for the root of the problem.  Here’s what I’ve found: I am a person of high expectations.  I have high expectations for others, yes, but I have even higher expectations for myself.  And every time I fall short of these expectations, a little seed of guilt is planted.

Case in point: When I started exercising again after having Annie, I immediately started training for a half marathon.  I had done them before, pre-baby, so I thought I should just be able to pick up where I left off and train for another one.  It never occurred to me that I might be expecting a little too much from myself, from my body, from my psyche.  And so I feel guilty every day that I don’t run (which, lately, has been a lot of days), because I see that high goal I set for myself becoming less and less likely to be a reality.  Instead, I could have (and I believe, should have) started a “Couch to 5K” program so that I could feel the accomplishment of reaching a worthy goal while easing myself back into a level a fitness that pregnancy and post-partum recovery have made difficult.  See, I’m growing here, people!  Right before your eyes.

I won’t bore you with further examples, but I will say that my mind is made up that this whole guilt party I’ve been throwing for, oh, most of my adult life, is going to stop.  It may not be easy.  It may not feel nice.  But it is necessary.  So here’s to self-forgiveness, blowing up those roadblocks to happy land, and feeling even happier!  Are you a happiness saboteur too?  If so, you are in good company…we can walk down this road to self-improvement together.

One final picture for today...

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