Guilty Thoughts

Friday, October 10, 2008

I have to admit something. As much as I would love to have my life governed by happiness, idealism, and other lofty motives, it hasn't been that way in a while. Lately, the main motivator in my life has been guilt.

One of my friends once told me that guilt was the most useless of all emotions. And I must disagree. I will readily admit that guilt feels terrible, that it can weigh one down and completely eliminate other motivators. (I will get to why I disagree later...)

And for the last, oh, I don't know, several years, I have been lugging around my own guilt grindstone. There are so many pressures on women and families these day (I'm sure there are similar pressure on men, I just don't internalize them, and therefore can not elaborate on them). I personally believe that every women is riddled with guilt. Maternal guilt is nearly a definable disorder.

I've been taking a public health course the last couple of weeks. And this is what I've gotten from it so far:

-I need to eat healthier. I should be cooking all my food from organic, whole foods, avoiding anything with preservatives, imported from another country, harvested by slaves. I should never eat at fast food "restaurants."

- I should eat less of this wonderful food that I'm cooking. All Americans overeat, and the only way that I'm ever going to find happiness is to eat less. I should always stop eating before I'm full, I should never have dessert. I should eat few enough calories that my weight is always trending down.

- I should exercise more. The number one predictor of individual health is physical activity. I should have a minimum of 120 minutes of strenuous exercise a week, with a variety of activities and a gym membership with a personal trainer.

- I should start participating in research. As an academically trained person, I have a social responsibility to contribute personally to the body of knowledge. And people with bow to me if I'm published.

- I should spend more time with my family. I should never let my children watch television, eat junk food. Their time should be spent in intellectually stimulated family activities that also promote the sense of social obligation.

So, obviously, I have a lot to feel guilty about. I feel that I will never be able to be the "ideal" community member.

However, I don't think that guilt is useless. If it was, I would never go jogging, never try to get home early to spend time with my children. Without guilt, what is there to motivate us to try to be better people? I wish that I could arrange my life so that there would be less daily guilt. However, if the twinge of guilt gets me into my running shoes a little more often, out of McDonald's and around the dinner table more frequently, and home playing tag or Chutes and Ladders instead of shoe shopping with the girls, I will take the guilt.