Q: Sometimes I feel so overwhelmed with what I have been given, I feel guilty. Even the wisdom of gratefulness just sounds like pious stuff. It seems that all I can say is ‘thank you’. What does this guilt mean? — Alan Roberts, Plimmerton, New Zealand
A: +You reflect on your feelings with keen awareness, Alan, and you face them honestly. This makes for a penetrating question. You are certainly not alone when you feel somehow ‘guilty’ for having received such an abundance of blessings. This sense of guilt may be irrational, but many of us experience it. Why is that so? Could it have something to do with a worldview of reward and punishment? I myself grew up with such a frame of reference. When unpleasant things happened to me, I took them to be punishments for things I had done wrong and I could always find plenty of things for which I felt guilty. When pleasant things happened, I took them to be my reward for something I had done right. But at times I was so overwhelmed by what I had been given that it was clear to me: I didn’t deserve this! That’s when I started to feel guilty for enjoying what I didn’t deserve. Since then, I’ve come to see that what happens to us in life can’t be explained as punishment. In fact, it cannot be explained in any other way either. It can only be celebrated. Since I started celebrating life moment by moment, I take the rough parts not as punishment, but as opportunities to grow. And I take the sweet stretches not as rewards, but as opportunities to enjoy. I now live life, rather than trying to explain it. This does away with guilt feelings. It’s also more realistic.
— Your Brother David