Why do we feel so guilty all the time?

Guilt.

Why do we spend so much of our time feeling guilty? I’m not talking about traditional stomach-churning, unrelenting guilt for past mistakes we can’t change – the time I copied someone else’s coursework or kissed someone my friend fancied when I was a teenager.

Instead, I’m referring to everyday guilt, the sort of fleeting feeling that is always there in the background. Mostly I feel guilty for the way I spend my time, which I think is surprisingly common. How often have you spend a Sunday morning lazing around in bed, poring over the weekend papers and consuming a leisurely breakfast, only to feel guilty for not keeping up with your housework and ‘wasting the day?’ How often have you felt guilty for putting on your pyjamas at 5pm instead of heading to the gym – even though you know your body needs the rest?

In our busy lives, guilt often extends to time spent with people too. As someone with no kids, I don’t have to split my time between work and looking after a family, but I still struggle to see everyone I want to. Scheduling in ‘down time’ (scrolling through Instagram and bingeing on Netflix documentaries) is increasingly important for good mental health but catching up with family and friends is equally a priority. How do we fit it all in?

While it makes me embarrassed to admit, I regularly feel guilty for my ‘privilege’ too. Living in a house that I own (and saved hard to get) as well as having a job I love makes me feel lucky and grateful – and sometimes just a tiny bit guilty. For what? I don’t know. Perhaps knowing that I’ve had the opportunity to achieve what I want to, perhaps a small case of ‘imposter syndrome.’ Either way, I hope I’ll always be as grateful for what I’ve got, although maybe I’ll eventually feel less guilt for it.

Feeling guilt for ‘doing well’ is, I think, a common feeling for lots of people. In the current climate, we’re told endlessly by the media about the issues facing young people. Unaffordable housing, low wages, high living costs and the possibility that pensions won’t exist in our old age. It’s easy to think that if you have most of the things you want, you’re tricking the system somehow.

So what can we do to feel less guilty? Apart from chilling out every once in a while, I think we will struggle to ever let go. Still, if it makes us feel a little more grateful and a little more mindful of how we spend our time, perhaps we need to take the best from that? After all, we’re only human.

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