Are you on a strict deadline and are very much behind from accomplishing them? Despite your situation, are you doing your online shopping, scrolling through your social media, binge-watching a favorite tv show, or reading a romance novel? That happens. Usually, you also give an excuse saying, “Hey, I’m just resting my brain.”

Why does liking and enjoying some things make most people feel bad? What is guilty pleasure anyway? Guilty pleasure is a term that is associated more with shame rather than guilt itself.

Feeling guilty is subjective and adaptive —social norms also define it. You may feel bad when you don’t do house chores; because it is socially appropriate that you be responsible for your house. When you talk about social media, the social rule is to be online and participative as much as you can. Because of social norms, you feel guilt, and you avoid making any mistakes.

Why Guilty Pleasures Are Good

Engaging in guilty pleasure brings out your inner child. You engage in mischief and find it thrilling. You are testing the boundaries of how far you can go without being caught. You feel pleasure and a sense of relief when you allow yourself to give in to your guilty pleasure.

Guilty pleasure is simply the joy of doing something but at the same time feel a little bad about doing it. This is society’s way of making people feel that their pleasures are not educational, informative, or purposeful.

An associate professor of Educational Psychology at the University of Texas at Austin states,  “When we rest, we think we’re supposed to use that time productively”. 

Guilty Pleasures as Pleasure

Focusing on your guilt will misguide you. If you find joy in doing some activities, then do it! You may enjoy a TV show that doesn’t make you any smarter but is definitely making you laugh really hard. That is very good for your mental health. Eating a chocolate cake may ruin your diet, but every bite brings you happiness, and you feel relaxed. Don’t focus on the pressure and guilt. Rather, focus on what can make you happy to be more productive throughout the day.

Guilty Pleasures and the Brain

It is a fact that leisure time should be spent wisely and productively. This is done to develop the mind and gain more knowledge. Your brain needs to rest, and indulging in pleasures engaging with a reward pathway are ways of easing the brain.

Guilty pleasures bring positive emotions to a person, reduce stress, and improve your mental health and well-being.  Engaging in pleasurable activities is harmless and is considered healthy. It makes you feel good and happy after sitting at least an hour watching your favorite movie or TV show. The same feeling happens when you travel to a new place or go to a concert by your favorite musician or artist.

Guilty pleasures don’t have to be grand and expensive. Simple everyday things can be guilty pleasures. Playing an interactive game on your phone before doing house chores can be very rewarding and inspiring. You feel a sense of triumph when you allow yourself to have fun.

Pleasure and Liabilities

Enjoying some pleasurable time is good. But too much can cause a number of implications. It is a big no-no if you have been postponing your work despite the strict deadline by binge-watching your favorite TV show; that’s procrastination. You may have serious health and mental issues that need to be checked. Do you feel inspired and motivated to resume your work? Or do you feel drained and unproductive? If it is doing more harm than good, it is time to recheck yourself.  

No one should abuse guilty pleasure. It should be considered as a gift because you can pause from work and enjoy a piece of chocolate or two before resuming your work. It should be used as a tool to relax and reset your brain to function better.

Guilt and Judgment of Society

You feel bad about the things you enjoy mainly because of the judging eyes of the people around you. Because of this, guilty pleasures fall into two categories:

  • Things that go into the body: These are basically the food and drink you enjoy eating but feel bad because they are unhealthy. Some people call these kinds of food comfort food.
  • Things that go into the mind: These are the things we enjoy on social media and the entertainment industry (movies, TV shows, and many more).

The guilt doesn’t only come from the judgment of others around you. It could also come from your expectation that you have to be consistent with your personality or beliefs. For example, if you are a classical singer or musician, you are expected only to listen and appreciate classical music. But listening to rock or rap music makes you feel better and happy. You are a different person in public and another persona when you are alone.

Guilt and Identity

What is human identity, and how significant is it in understanding guilty pleasures? Identity is a complex and ever-changing concept that is an accumulation of a person’s life experiences. Identity is a  social concept that can only be understood if you compare yourself to others – similarities and differences.

It is part of human nature that you make social connections. Having a social group and connecting with them is vital for your human survival. Because of this, there is a need to balance between your individuality and the group’s common personality. For instance, if the group commonly likes American TV shows, you should like them as much as you enjoy your personal favorite, K-Dramas.

Everything is available on the internet and with unlimited access at that. In other words, society’s landscape is changing and is very demanding. Society will dictate who and what you should like. Because of this pressure, you need to exert your identity all the more.

“What-the-Hell” Effect

Have you ever experienced enjoying a whole pizza and realizing that you ate more than half of the circle? You then hear yourself  say, “What-the-hell?” Yes, you know that feeling. This phenomenon is called the “what-the-hell” effect and is the reason behind your inability to stop eating or doing what you like.

This effect tells you that when you associate pleasure with guilt, there is a high tendency that you will have poor self-control. If you are on a diet and feel bad about eating fatty and oily food, you will most likely have a hard time losing weight. But if you look at eating this unhealthy food with excitement rather than guilt, you will most likely succeed in losing weight. Research shows that it is best to focus on the benefits of the pleasures instead of feeling guilty. If you are happier, you can make better and healthier life choices.

Reality TV and Mental Break

Watching reality TV is a common guilty pleasure. It may not be intellectually stimulating, but it can be a very good outlet for emotional release. Watching these shows makes you feel a rollercoaster of emotions, thus yelling or screaming at the TV can be your emotional outlet, which is a good thing.

There is a stereotype as to what is considered appropriate to watch on TV. If you are an executive or successful person, you should be watching the news, documentary channels, or sports channels. But, if you are an ordinary person with an ordinary day job, you should watch The Real Housewives. Don’t be fooled by this. 

This is only an advertising stunt to attract as many viewers as possible. If you like these shows, this doesn’t necessarily make you dumb or immoral. What’s harmful is your way of thinking that it is bad. The more you consider watching these shows as bad, there is bigger the tendency to over-indulge.  

Having leisure time and watching reality TV is good. This type of pleasurable activity doesn’t demand too much intellectual work and focus. The brain can rest and reset to improve its function. Having a mental break helps you deal with stress better, and you become energized.

How to End Guilty Pleasures?

The term guilty pleasure is relatively new, appearing only in 1990. Despite its novelty, the concept is hoped to end soon, for it places more emphasis on guilt and shame rather than pleasure. 

Indulging in guilty pleasures is good only if it is short-term and you can control your urges. But, constantly allowing yourself to give in to these pleasurable urges, especially the negative ones, can be damaging and harmful in the long run. The key is to have control over yourself.  

Mastering Self-Control

Being able to control yourself is important if you don’t want to feel guilty about your pleasures. Research shows that self-control showed that those who are negatively self-conscious have higher control over themselves. This means if you are very conscious about yourself – what you eat, watch or do, and think about its negative effects on you; you are more likely to control yourself from over-indulging.

Often it is people who have poor control who feel the guiltiest. You should be able to master and control yourself. You should have self-compassion towards yourself by giving yourself more “break time”. This way, you can recover quicker and have a healthier disposition. If you know you are eating right and doing your best to be healthy; you don’t have to feel guilty about eating 2 or 3 slices of chocolate cake or a pint of ice cream.

“I” Should Come First

It is time to drop the shame and indulge in your guilty pleasures. These pleasures are good for your well-being and mental health. You are only productive and inspired when you are happy.  Have more self-compassion and be free to enjoy whatever you want as long as you are not hurting anybody. You tell yourself, “I have closed a lot of deals this week. It’s about time I reward myself”.

If you need someone to cry with while watching a drama or hold the ice cream container for you, Kentucky Counseling Center (KCC) is here to help you with your guilty pleasures. They are here to make you feel good and help you control your urges. Set an appointment now!

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