The Guiltiest Pleasure

You know this feeling pretty well. When you know something is bad for you, but you can’t stop. It’s just too tempting… It seems that guilt makes it only more irresistible.

The phenomenon that I’m talking about is commonly known as a „guilty pleasure” and it can describe a variety of things: shopping for useless things, snacking chocolate, or enjoying a movie that you know is poorly made.

One could think, it makes no sense. If we feel so bad about it, why do we indulge in it? Wouldn’t it be better, if we just stop it?

It would be, but it’s so difficult! It seems the most fun thing to do.

How to fight against it?

To combat the guiltiest of my pleasures I decided to sink into research, to get to know the enemy.

Different studies suggest that guilt enhances pleasure. It was enough to be given sentences with guilt-connected words like regret, remorse, sin to make people rate the taste of a chocolate better than those who got neutral sentences. Kelly Goldsmith, an assistant professor of marketing at the Kellogg School of Management, who carried out the study, mentioned that the guilted participants remembered liking the candy for a longer time. They were also ready to pay more to get it.

The similar effect occurs with people who read health-related magazines – eating the chocolate was a more pleasurable experience for them.

But it’s not only about food, but also other aspects of life. The women that were exposed to guilt were more likely to enjoy watching dating profiles of attractive men and later reported being more interested in dating.

Everything I like is either illegal, immoral or fattening.
Alexander Woollcott

In our guilt-driven culture it’s not a surprise that we associate guilt with pleasure – very often they go together, so we learn to associate one with another. But we need to remember that not all guilt is equal – the studies were focused on a mild guilt and not connected with failing others, but the participants themselves.

How to use it to our advantage?

First of all, stop guilting yourself about pleasure. Chapman University published a study that shows that people over 50 who are more satisfied with their life live longer. It’s easier to be satisfied with one’s life if you have enough fun! Even if you are not 50 yet, you might want to start developing good habits increasing your longevity already today and enjoy little pleasures 🙂

Secondly, stop guilting yourself about your bad habits. Instead of helping, you might end up feeling like indulging in it more. The situation can get worse – we often think that if we failed once, we might as well give in completely. In the end, it will just make us feel less in control of ourselves. And the circle continue.

Last but not least, add some fun elements to the things you want to do more often. You will not eat healthy food if you associate it with something without taste and mostly connected with suffering. It does not only work with food but with other things as well. So let yourself have more fun!

It’s interesting how weird people’s feelings work sometimes. We don’t always get to choose them, but we can learn and use them to our advantage. Especially when it seems the guiltiest pleasures are not necessarily the most pleasurable themselves. They just have the guilty enhancer, that once removed, makes the whole experience less exciting. I believe we shouldn’t focus only on reducing the pleasure from the guilty pleasures. It’s even more important to add pleasure to less tempting activities because we definitely deserve more fun!


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