Felix Culpa: On Guilty Pleasures

Today is International Day of Happiness. Perhaps this is news to you; it was news to me yesterday when I found out. I had no idea that there was a day within the calendar year dedicated to being happy. (Why not a day dedicated to harmless revenge?) It’s only existed since 2012, so I can only imagine that before then happiness was strictly a domestic affair.

So, do you get pinched for scowling like you get pinched for not wearing green on St. Patrick’s Day? Is a forced smile permissible if one more genuine is not to be had? Am I allowed to partake in illegal activities if such activities make me happy? Is drunkenness encouraged for the temporary elation it provides, or is it discouraged for the ultimate train wreck that ensues? And what—in the universe of all things—makes me genuinely happy?

When I consider that question, I realize that a lot of my answers are food related. Pizza makes me happy. Onion rings. Tea. Nando’s. Bread. Fruit tarts. Mashed potatoes. Gin. Corn dogs.

Condoleezza Rice has her guilty pleasures, too. (NBC)
Condoleezza Rice has her guilty pleasures, too.

The other answers are things that I’m less proud to reveal. For instance, I really like fanfiction. Admitting that feels like I’m admitting to something embarrassing, like how that kid in Jumanji feels when he grows a monkey tail and it gets stuck in his pants. But I love fanfiction. I love it as entertainment and I love it from an academic angle. I also love The Vampire Diaries—I watch it religiously every week—which makes me feel like I need to announce that I also watch shows that are slightly more highbrow, like Breaking Bad and Parks and Recreation, The West Wing and 30 Rock (may they rest in peace). There was also a time in my youth when I read Twilight and I liked it. In enjoying the lowbrow, I feel guilty. I feel like I have guilty pleasures.

But what’s the point in having guilty pleasures? We think that others are judging us for what we choose to indulge in, and maybe they are, but I think the greatest source of judgment and the subsequent guilt is from ourselves.

So I asked myself this: what is the goddamn point of making myself feel guilty for indulging in things that make me happy? It makes the things I enjoy less enjoyable; it makes me spend more time thinking of excuses than thinking of new and interesting ways to amuse myself.

The Last Man on Earth (Fox)
The Last Man on Earth (Fox)

When we call something a “guilty pleasure,” we’re not only not doing ourselves any favors, we also promote the idea that there are certain things or activities that are less worth doing. If something makes you happy, it is worthy of your time. If something makes someone else happy, it is worth their time. You might not be able to change how other people feel about your going to town on a bag of Cheetos, jamming out to Hanson, or building an enormous Jenga tower, but you can change your own attitude. In the words of some wise person: you do you. If there’s one day of the year that you shouldn’t feel guilty for the stuff you like, it’s on International Day of Happiness.

Ron Swanson from NBC’s Parks and Recreation



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