The other day I felt so guilty after buying a bag of crisps at the petrol station on my way home that I decided to never ever buy a crisp bag again. This might sound a bit silly, but I had two reasons for feeling guilty: Firstly, I had planned to go for a run that evening and worried that the crisps would sit badly in my stomach and secondly, because I was producing waste. These thoughts only overcame me after I had bought the crisps, the purchase itself was made on impulse.
I could have justified this bag of crisps with all sorts of reasons: I deserved it after a long day at work; I don’t do it everyday; I didn’t buy one last time I got petrol… But I didn’t, instead I felt guilty. If I didn’t feel guilty, I wouldn’t have questioned this small action and made the radical decision to never buy one again. Is guilt what drives us to change?
“Don’t feel guilty, enjoy it”, a phrase I have often heard when questioning something. On the one hand side, I agree and on the other, I think that a little bit of guilt is healthy and necessary. Whatever decision I’ve made I should enjoy it, even the crisps I regretted buying straight away. I bought them, so I might as well enjoy them now. There are other things I have felt guilty about (but not always that strongly), including flying somewhere, driving somewhere when I could have taken the train, buying fast fashion again because it was convenient and eating meat to be polite. I still enjoyed my holiday, accepted that I had taken the car, wore the clothes I bought and ate the meat.But it’s only because of this feeling of guilt, that I decide to do it differently next time.
I avoid flying whenever possible and don’t fly on holiday, I see if I can take the train before going by car, I bought my last item of clothing from an ethical brand and I eat mostly vegetarian again. So is guilt a feeling that makes us a better person, because it makes us think about our actions (as long as we don’t ignore it)? I think so. A little bit of guilt makes me think about my actions and a strong feeling of guilt (or repeated small feelings for the same thing) make me act and change – in this case, leading to a more sustainable lifestyle, and fewer unhealthy crisps.