in pursuit of pleasure

I hope you’ll forgive me for the random-ness of this post, but it’s just something I was thinking about the other day that I wanted to share.

Last summer, Conrad and I spent two weeks in Europe to celebrate our marriage with the French side of my family. In case you didn’t know, my dad is French! He hails from Haute Maurienne, the part of France that borders Italy and Switzerland, and the home of the French Alps. It’s one of the most beautiful places in the world, and I can’t believe I’m actually from there.

But I digress. When we visited France last year, I realized it was the first time I’d been back in more than five years. Because of this, I was able to observe something really interesting between the way French people live vs. the way Americans live.

Now, let me preface this discussion by stating openly that, YES, I am TOTALLY generalizing here. I am not referring to each and every single French person or each and every American person. That said, I’ve spent significant time among both cultures (and heck, I AM French and American!), and this one big difference really jumped out at me last summer.

In France, people are not afraid of feeling pleasure. In fact, they actively seek it out. Pleasure is relished, enjoyed, shared, and continuous. By pleasure, I am referring to enjoying life. A crisp glass of white wine on a hot summer’s day. A creamy, velvety cheese spread on top of a crusty piece of bread. Those moments before you have to wake up, when the room is still dark and you’re under the covers, more cozy and safe than you feel anywhere else.

By contrast, the US is highly anti-pleasure. Here we strive on pushing ourselves to the limit, seeing how much we can do in a day/week/month/etc., and we boast about how busy we are, as if it’s some medal of honor or something. When we speak of things that give us pleasure, it’s often worded almost like a confession, like “Oh, I was so bad yesterday…I ate a huge piece chocolate cake!”, and if not, it’s often followed by an extreme solution, like vowing never to eat chocolate again, or doing an excessive workout the following week. Many Americans I know truly have a hard time taking their vacation days and just relaxing, and I think that’s why everyone is so stressed out all the time!

When you have the idea that the concept of pleasure is inherently bad, you just can’t enjoy things. They’re done either in private or in excess, to the extent where we feel that we’ve overdone it, and then we feel like we have to punish ourselves for enjoying said thing. If I tell myself that I am not ‘allowed’ to eat dessert on any day except Friday, then you better believe that, come Friday, I’ll eat so much dessert that I don’t even want to look at an eclair until the next Friday, when I’ll start the process all over. However, if I just tell myself that I can eat what I want, as long as I take the time to truly savor and enjoy it,  I’ll eat half as much and enjoy it twice as much.

Observing my French friends and relatives last summer, I could see that their conception of pleasure was totally different. Instead of being something they restrict, it’s something they allow to flow freely all around them, taking part in it whenever they choose to. Of course they don’t eat rich foods or drink red wine all day, every day, but when they do, they enjoy the hell out of it because they don’t feel guilty for enjoying things.

I feel guilty all the time. And I wasn’t even raised Catholic!

(^^did a little catholic joke there for ya. You’re welcome.)

But I do. I feel guilty if I don’t work out. I feel guilty if I don’t have a productive day at work. I feel guilty if I forget to call a friend back. I feel guilty for ignoring my spouse after work and zoning out in front of Gilmore Girls. Hell, I even feel guilty for feeling guilty! It’s a sickness, I tell ya.

And I do think guilt is normal. It would be weird to never feel it, especially if you did something you should feel guilty about. However, I am sick of feeling guilty for just being a (semi) normal human being that wants to enjoy their life. Sometimes, I just want to spend the whole day inside and do absolutely nothing except nap and cuddle with the dog and Conrad. And I want to do it GUILT-FREE. Sometimes I want to eat that extra cupcake because it looks really good. Sometimes I don’t want to eat it because I’m full. The point is, it’s just a f*cking cupcake. Keep the guilt or worry for the things that really do warrant them, and enjoy your life to the fullest, because it’s the only one you have.

Ever since we came back, I’ve been trying to embody this more in my life, and I have noticed a huge difference. It’s almost like a game to me: How can I find something pleasurable out of this moment/day/experience? Perhaps it’s getting to watch your favorite trashy TV show when folding laundry. Perhaps it’s getting to spend the day with someone you love, even if the day was spent at the DMV. Perhaps it’s getting that alone time with your coffee after you wake up in the morning.

I’ve also noticed that, through trying to enjoy things more mindfully, I’m actually a lot healthier. After I stopped dividing things into good and bad, I realized that too much of anything is what’s really ‘bad’, and a little of all the things is much, much more enjoyable. I like exercise because I don’t see it as a punishment for enjoying food. I see it as a way to enjoy being outside and get my alone time in. Instead of forcing myself to eat more veggies and fruits, I actually want to eat them because I cook and prepare them in a way that’s delicious (PSA: Steamed carrots are the grossest things ever, and why would you do that to yourself?!).

One thing is certain: there will always be things in life that suck, but it’s up to you to find the things that make them not so sucky. And you should never feel bad about that!

What do you think? Do you feel guilty for enjoying things? How do you stop that guilt?
I’d love to hear your thoughts.

(all images via Pexels)

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