I’m just going to come out and say it. You deserve that slice of cake. You deserve those french fries, the extra 2 slices of pizza, you deserve that stiff drink, hell, you even deserve whatever hard drug you can get your hands on. Hear me out!
As a human being, you find yourself in a bizarre situation. You’re a mammal, that, through the quirks of time and evolution have gained the ability to be self-aware, and to participate in an unimaginably vast global structure of other mammals all trying to survive and thrive on a rocky planet floating in the black emptiness of space.
No one asked you if you wanted any of this. You were born, put into school, wandered into a career track, and now spend your days working away to make sure the spreadsheets balance, the units arrive at the right place, the bills are paid, and that you do your small part to keep the gears of society turning. Throughout all of this you deal with the pressures and frustrations of life, from the small stuff like traffic and boring meetings to the big things like remaining financially solvent and finding some sense of purpose in your existence. Oh, and about that existence thing — you’re also going to die, along with all the people you know and love.
So yes, in the face of all this, I think you deserve every pint of ice cream, bag of potato chips, and bottle of wine you want. Being a human is no walk in the park, and enjoying these small bright spots is the least the universe could do for the pickle it’s put you in.
But here’s the tricky part.
You also deserve to feel good. Not just the fleeting “good” of enjoying an unhealthy food, drink, or drug, but the deep, real “good” of being healthy, clear-headed, present, and vibrant. You deserve to be able to play with kids and puppies and not have to take a break to catch your breath. You deserve to be able to walk up a mountain to see what the view is up there. You deserve to enjoy the simple pleasure of playing a sport, dancing, or taking a yoga or martial arts class. All of these things are bright spots in the slog that is human existence, but as you become unfit and overweight they’re gradually shut off to you.
When I see someone struggling with obesity, physically dependent on others, I see so much frustration and anguish. But this anguish was caused by the accumulation of small pleasures, each of which was completely deserved in the moment. And when I see someone who successfully gets excessive body fat off, I see so much joy, caused by the person consciously denying themselves small pleasures in pursuit of a bigger happiness.
This is the reality you have to live with in this modern age of cheap, easy calories and widely available drugs (both legal and illicit). You deserve a treat, and yet you don’t deserve the negative outcomes those treats will cause.
Fortunately, you have a big, massively intelligent brain with powerful parallel processing capabilities. This means that you’re able to hold two contradictory thoughts in your head at the same time. You can think to yourself…
“Being a human on this crazy planet is no joke. I deserve to enjoy whatever food, drink, and drug I like.”
… and at the same time, have the accompanying thought…
“I don’t want to sit around feeling fuzzy-headed, fat, and lethargic. I deserve to feel fit, healthy, and fully alive just as much as anyone else.”
After a tough day, when you’re thinking about all the ways to cope, take a breath and hold each of these ideas lightly in your mind, as if you were holding a hummingbird in each hand.
Sometimes you’ll opt for the treat, and that’s completely ok. You deserve it. But more often than not, when you take a moment and think of your larger needs, you’ll realize that you deserve so much more than a brief flash of pleasure, a fleeting pleasure which ultimately makes an already tough existence that much harder.
The one approach I find doesn’t work particularly well is guilt, shame, and self-reproach. Trying to change your choices that way always produces unhelpful results in other areas of life. When you try to squish a human in one way, they just get weird in another way (often more dysfunctional than the first).
Start with the baseline thought that you are worthy of whatever pleasure you can find in this life. It’s ok to say that. But remember that there are deeper levels of pleasure which the surface layers obscure, and to always say yes to the shallow pleasures denies you the experience of the deeper.
Be kind and patient with yourself. To be human is to be put in an untenable position. But here we are, and there’s space in the cracks for happiness and contentment.
Patrick Reynolds // Kenzai Founder