Does A “Guilty Pleasure” Really Make You Feel Guilty?
Does A “Guilty Pleasure” Really Make You Feel Guilty?
Guilt is an inexorable feeling that reminds us of what could’ve been. But how do we make sense of our guilty pleasures? Here’s a read for you.


Who doesn’t have them? A TV show or series we love, even though they are awful. The boring books we simply can’t put down. Sleeping in until 11am. Having that extra slice of cake while watching Netflix. The dreadful songs we hate to love. The professed “guilty pleasures” are only an illusion. I mean, are we really feeling guilty about it? Certainly, I’m not, and deep down neither are you. But a huge part of the world will say otherwise; the term itself is more common than we think. I was having mixed opinions about it so I decided to go out of my way and look more into it - here’s what I figured.


My not-so-guilty pleasures


Living in a massive metropolitan city like Sydney, I had quite the options for pastime activities. From galloping on a dashing stallion in the Centennial Parklands, or hurling an axe at wooden objects at an Axe-throwing arena, to treating myself to a nice time on a day cruise in Sydney, I somehow managed to remain level-headed in between the scurrying paths of life. These aren’t necessarily guilty pleasures, but the number of times I did them within a month may suggest otherwise. But then again, how is it a winking joke if it brings genuine joy to me and causes no harm to anyone else? 


What it actually is


Technically, guilty pleasure means doing something we love that we know we’re not supposed to, or that others might disapprove of which might result in a decline in social status. For instance, I don’t think I’ll ever go a month without enjoying a boat dinner in Sydney. It’s so calming and gives me a sense of freedom while taking a break from the buzzing city. Another common example is the consumption of fast food - while we may think others will look down on us, you’ll find that you’re not alone when you go to pick up a burger after a long day of work; in fact, the global fast food market was worth almost 800 billion dollars in 2021.


How I feel about it


I think we associate the word “guilt” to such “pleasures’’, because it makes it more enjoyable; that unexplainable feeling of wanting to do or indulge in something that we’re told not to. While it may be good for survival, there's a flip side to it. A survey in 2013 has found that people who associated chocolate cake with guilt had less belief in their self control and were more prone to gaining weight. This guilt stems from how we think the world around us wants us to act, how we’re told to behave. It’s merely a social construct, because when you're feeling guilty and haven’t harmed anyone, you’re just in the realms of perfectionism and self-criticism.


The balance we need


The trick is to practise moderation even for something you love. If we stigmatise a behaviour and later engage in it, it’s much easier to go overboard, feel guilty and enjoy less. There’s no prospect of a ‘guilt’ element in pursuing the common human need for pleasure but then again finding the right balance is also crucial. Binge watching your favourite show till early morning when you should be getting ready for work in a few hours, is something that needs to be paused and looked into. Instead it should be a tool to reset your mind and unwind before being productive again.


Time to move past it


Perhaps it is high time that we drop the usage of the term. In this 21st century world, where the need to live calls for the need to hustle, it is okay to take a break and watch that ‘trashy’ show to keep us going. Why feel bad about it if you're doing it in moderation? Be more gentle with yourself and truly enjoy your pleasures, after all no one’s stopping you! Erasing the word from our vocabulary could be the first step to the act of self-care, so let’s drop it together by the end of this year, shall we?