Monday, October 17, 2016

The Healthiness of Guilty Pleasures

Despite a severe lack of spirituality on my end, I have always admired a Buddhist monk’s will-power, self-control, and focus on important things over earthly pleasures. I strive to not only be a good person, but lead a satisfying life with minimal regrets.

Some months ago, a man wanted to buy me a drink, and when I merely got water, he was shocked, put-off, and exclaimed, “What sins do you do?”

“None,” I replied, perfectly honestly. “If I do something I regret, I don’t do it again. If I don’t regret it, I don’t consider it a sin.”

I’ve been very good about restraining myself when it comes to making hedonistic choices that I will later make me unhappy. Even my last relationship, which was hard on me, was never based on impulse or even pleasure. I stuck around, sure, because the thought of being without him was unbearable, but also because I knew myself. Even when I began to accept the problems would get worse, not better, if I ended things before I truly understood what went wrong, I would be harder put to let go. In some foolish way, I knew that I would regret prematurely leaving rather than staying until long after it was dead, dead, dead.

And I don’t regret it. I am bound and determined to never let myself be in that situation again, and if I woke up two years ago, I’d make very different decisions, but I don’t wish it hadn’t happened, I see benefits to my experiences. I learned a lot, I had fun at times, and I found feelings I didn’t know for sure I was capable of. I may have been humiliated and hardened by the relationship, but do I wish I hadn’t made the decisions I did? Not really. I understand what I was going through and respect my younger self for her optimism and compassion, even if I have no desire to be that girl again.

In any case, in the following months after our break-up, the more miserable, angry, and pessimistic I became, the more I latched onto future planning and not living in the moment. I still remained at home, wrote instead of socialized, and though I tried to put myself out there a few times, the experiences were awful—most occasions ending in ongoing sexual harassment by a few individuals I merely engaged with in small talk for a few minutes.

I struggled to think on how to make myself happier, to enjoy the moment or television shows or books or socialization… or anything really. I was miserable, and it seemed subconsciously set on being miserable, unable to focus long enough to get anything creative done, unable to immerse myself long enough to have some fun.

I have a friend whose misery is evident in her physical appearance; every time she’s unhappy with her life, she goes out and gets a haircut, dye, or tattoo. From her, I recognized the desire to change something about my physical appearance when I was dissatisfied with my life. And as someone who loved having long hair, I decided that going out and cutting it on impulse would be something I’d regret after the novelty wore off. I haven’t cut my hair since the eighth grade.

Now, in my hopes to be more impulsive, outgoing, and just happy in general, I made a decision. I chopped off eight inches of hair. And I’m a thousand times happier.

As I looked at my ponytail, filled with split ends, I thought, “Yeah, it took me a long time getting there, but it was a mess.” I worried about it turning out poorly, that I’d be stuck with a terrible haircut, that I’d be mad at myself for making the decision and I’d end up with something much worse than what I had before.

But instead, I feel better about myself. Sure, a bit of the enthusiasm I have is purely due to it being different, a temporary high, but who’s to say that isn’t just as meaningful? Just because it’s not lasting doesn’t mean that happiness doesn’t mean something. Take it from someone who has constantly denied herself the little joys in life in favor of bigger gains: smelling the roses, eating that piece of pie, buying a new shirt, or anything considered frivolous—even shallow—can be what makes your life more colorful.

When I was new to writing, I constantly judged the books I loved. As a teenager, I was pretty much filled with cynicism and judgment period, but I refused to consider writing the “silly” pleasures I got from the books I read. I mean, I was far more open minded at 12 than 20 (I praise my early writing for its honesty, relatability, and appeal), but it took me some time to stop resisting “commercial” elements, respecting my personal tastes, and being true to my opinions. I started to reflect on what I really felt about things, rather than saying, “Well it’s for kids, therefore it’s not serious.”

At 20, I realized my work, while much superior in precision, continuity, and stakes, lacked the draw, the feeling that the books I wanted to read had—what my earlier manuscripts had in spades.

Guilty pleasures, I argued at one point, aren’t little embarrassments we should hide. Sometimes they’re exactly what we need to add to make a story worthwhile.

It’s obvious that life—and writing—is about achieving a balance, and yet it’s fairly easy to forget it. In fact, it’s much less risky to continually focus on the present or the future, but switching back and forth? Not so much.


In summation, my hair’s all gone and with it a whole lot of baggage.



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