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Are “Guilty” Pleasures Actually Good for Us and Our Health?

Are “Guilty” Pleasures Actually Good for Us and Our Health?

Friends or couple sitting on the couch watching TV

The very name of guilty pleasures already tells us how we should feel about them: guilty. We’re conditioned to believe that a weekend spent binging “The Circle” or “The Bachelor” has some element of shame attached to it, such that when someone asks about our weekends and we have to respond “I spent it binging ‘The Circle'” or “I caught up on ‘The Bachelor’,” we do it with an embarrassed chuckle and a readiness to follow the unfortunate revelation up with something along the lines of, “I know, I know. I’m not sure why I get so into it.”

But despite a long history of attaching shame to hobbies that we often refer to as guilty pleasures, psychologists and wellness experts generally agree that there isn’t — or at least there shouldn’t be — such a thing as a “guilty” pleasure. Why? Because anything harmless that helps us relax, reduce our stress, or feel better in some way is not only nothing to feel guilty about, but something that we should take pride in doing in the interest of better health.

“While there is certainly variation in the extent to which each of us indulges in guilty pleasures, the reality is that our well-being actually depends on some indulgence,” says Matt Glowiak, PhD, a therapist, professor, and contributing writer for the Brooklyn-based mental health startup, Choosing Therapy. “Neuroscience has highlighted an area of the brain coined the ‘reward pathway.’ Beginning in the ventral tegmental area (VTA), neurons release dopamine, which ultimately leads toward our experience of pleasure. Because the reward pathway is connected to areas of the brain that control behavior and memory, we continually engage in behaviors that attempt to satisfy that gratifying experience.”

The way Glowiak puts it, a guilty pleasure — whether it’s streaming a favorite reality TV show or flipping through a tabloid in the checkout line at the grocery store — is something that our bodies might experience pleasure from on a physiological level, such that we learn to crave those experiences when we need a pick-me-up. And, in today’s fast-paced, keep-hustling society, those moments are becoming more frequent — and more important to satisfy — than ever before. 

“Burning the candle on both ends comes with significant consequences, which may include burnout, depression, anxiety, resentment, and a whole host of other negative implications,” Glowiak adds. “By taking some time out to enjoy such guilty pleasures in moderation, however, one may escape the pressures of everyday life and reset — getting back to a healthy point where production is once again maximized.”

Moral of the story? Go ahead and stream your “Vanderpump Rules” with pride this weekend — it might just help you get through Monday like a champ.

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