Today’s Solutions: May 19, 2024

Does thinking about your most recent hours-long Netflix session that you had (on a weekday!) bring about feelings of shame? What about when you played that mindless video game all night long? Even though these are all enjoyable activities, chances are you’d be reluctant to admit to indulging in these “guilty pleasures.”

Well, it turns out that allowing yourself to participate in harmless guilty pleasures is actually good for you and supports your wellbeing.

What’s a “guilty pleasure” anyway?

Truth be told, an objectively “guilty” pleasure doesn’t exist. It’s a societal construct meant to make us feel as though our leisure activities aren’t as educational or enriching as they should be, which is a mindset connected to cultural and gender norms.

As Aniko Dunn, Psy.D, a psychologist at EZCare Clinic in San Francisco, says, “While we all believe that we should spend our leisure time doing things that improve our minds and enhance our knowledge, in fact, like all other organs, your brain needs to rest.” In fact, people have “increased positive emotions and reduced negative ones after indulging in the pleasures of guilt.”

As long as your chosen activity is a harmless pleasure, then neuroscience supports the hypothesis that participating in these habits may be healthy. Professor of sociology at the University of South Carolina Beaufort Deborah J. Cohan, Ph.D. says that when we expose ourselves to things we enjoy, neural pathways in the brain light up. “This is why so many of us feel inspired through travel or seeing musicians and dancers perform live or when we go to the very top of a tall building and see a panoramic view of a whole city,” she explains.

However, we get a similar effect out of experiencing smaller pleasures, too. Frontiers in Psychology published a literature review that found evidence that suggests that a bit of mindless video gaming can improve well-being, add to a sense of accomplishment, and reduce stress. On top of that, a study published in PLoS One reported that practicing self-compassion by allowing yourself to enjoy whatever it is you’re doing can help you cope with anxiety and depression. So, the next time you spent two and a half hours mindlessly scrolling through Pinterest or playing Fruit Ninja, don’t let guilt seep in. Enjoy it!

Can your pleasures become liabilities?

That said, don’t go overboard either. “Too much of anything is never great, and the same goes for this. If we’re staying up all night… while binge-watching shows, there may be more going on underneath the surface, and what seems like pleasure might be masking pain, fear, or avoidance,” says Dr. Cohan.

It’s important to check in with yourself during and after your “guilty pleasure” indulgence. If you feel like putting off your tasks for a couple more hours helped you feel more ready to tackle the day, then consider the hours you spent with your chosen activity as time well spent. However, if you feel drained rather than refreshed then perhaps it’s time to start self-reflecting.

Basically, the most important thing is to remind yourself that permitting yourself to enjoy some fluffy television programs or to spend a little extra time on the couch isn’t anything to feel guilty about. It’s just another form of self-care that in the end contributes to your overall wellbeing.

Additional Sources: Frontiers in PsychologyGaming well: links between videogames and flourishing mental health

PLoS OneThe role of self-compassion in buffering symptoms of depression in the general population.

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