It’s ten to five, and you’re rushing to clean your desk and head home. You’ll have a solid three hours before the rest of the family arrives - just enough time to binge-watch Desperate Housewives and stuff your face with Doritos.
Everybody has their guilty pleasures. Some people enjoy watching a bad TV show, some love to bet, while others enjoy eating snickers while reading tabloids. However, for some people, occasional bingo nights with their friends can escalate into an evil, life-wrecking gambling disorder.
That said, we wanted to re-examine the term “guilty pleasure” and determine how far they can go. More importantly, we want to determine when guilty pleasure becomes more than a pleasure and becomes a danger.
But, first things first: What is a guilty pleasure?
A guilty pleasure is something we enjoy doing in private - reading trashy books, listening to music with low artistic value, or watching reality TV shows. By definition, a guilty pleasure is something that’s not generally held in high regard.
If they’re pleasures, why do we feel guilty?
Why we feel guilty enjoying an activity that harms no one is the million-dollar question here. Our genes might hold the answer.
Our brains are wired to survive, and indulging in activities that aren’t productive or worthy of our time provokes the guilt we feel. However, allowing our brains to solve hypothetical problems is not healthy, and we should have some space to unwind.
The bottom line: guilty pleasures are good for our well-being as they don’t require intense intellectual focus and help us rest and recover so we have the energy for more demanding tasks. Everything in moderation.
Guilt and addiction
Having a cupcake every once in a while can’t hurt us, but gorging ourselves with them can lead us to weight gain and pose a severe risk to our health. We shouldn’t feel bad about our guilty pleasure, however, we shouldn’t rely on that sweet feeling to make us happy all the time. Because if we do, we might be at risk of developing an addiction.
Science tells us that the guilt we feel while doing things we love might be why we become addicts. Some theories suggest that guilt forms of pleasure are ingrained in our minds, and the guilt we feel while enjoying those activities actually triggers thoughts of desire. Simply put, we want things we shouldn’t because we’re aware that they’re bad for us.
How guilt works - an experiment.
Kelly Goldsmith from Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, conducted an experiment to prove that we’re attracted to things more if we perceive them as bad.
What she did was split volunteers into two groups and give them some word games to play. Their first task was to unscramble some sentences. One group had to unscramble sentences that contained words such as “sin,” “guilt,” and “remorse,” while the other group had more neutral words. For the second part of the experiment, volunteers had to fill in the letters and make words out of it. They were given examples such as “E N _ _ _” or “P L _ _ _ _ _ _.”
Interestingly, the ones in a group who had to unscramble the sentences containing the words such as sin, guilt, and remorse were more likely to fill in those blanks with the letters to create words such as “enjoyment” or “pleasure.”
Goldsmith found that people who were primed with guilt enjoyed eating sweets more than others. Overall, the conclusion is clear: the guilt we feel increases the pleasure we’re experiencing while practicing the activities we feel guilty about.
How far is too far?
“How far is too far?” - is a good question to ask ourselves when thinking about the influence our guilty pleasure has on us. We all enjoy doing some activities more than others; however, it can be dangerous when the need for that desire surpasses the want.
One of the most important signs to look for is the change in our behavior. For instance, people with addictions can become less socially engaged, detached, and unable to communicate effectively in a social setting.
What should I do?
Modern man is exposed to too many temptations. We can start with one glass of wine every evening and end up drinking way too much. Or, we might enjoy a good game of bingo one moment and end up losing our wages before we know it.
The key to keeping your guilty pleasure for what it is - a pleasure - is awareness. We should ask ourselves whether we’re enjoying some activities or if those activities are becoming addictive. If we have even the slightest doubt about it, we should take precautions. Furthermore, we should examine whether these activities affect our daily lives and the lives of the people around us.
Before you let a guilty pleasure become an addiction, make sure to ask yourself a few questions. Do you obsess about when the next time you’ll be able to enjoy your guilty pleasure? Does it feel impossible to stop? Are there any people affected by it? Does it impact your performance in school or at work? Based on those answers you’ll know how “guilty” you are, and whether you have to take some actions to stay healthy and happy, and enjoy what life has to offer to the fullest.