Ellen Langer

I just gave an interview about guilt. The way these conversations typically go is that I start to wax eloquently (or so I imagine), and only a half of a handful of what I say ever appears in print. So here are a few nuggets (or fool’s gold) that I think may be worth mentioning:

1) Guilt is mindless. Because our behavior always makes sense at the time or else we’d behave differently, feeling guilty suggests we weren’t/aren’t aware of why we did whatever we did. If I didn’t spend a full day with my kids, I might feel guilty unless I mindfully made the choice to go to work for good reason.

2) Guilt is mindless because the guilt-ridden are presuming that if they did whatever they think they should have done or didn’t do whatever they think they shouldn’t have done, all would be good. This is the illusion of predictability that I’ve written about since the 1970’s. If you had spent more time with the children, that does not mean that they’d now be happier. Many stay-at-home moms raise unhappy children and many moms who work all day raise happy kids. There’s no way to know that a single variable like that will have a clear effect. Children usually need to feel loved and supported, but that can be given in brief doses over time or by inundating them with attention.

Life only consists of moments. When we make the moment count, guilt never need appear.