No pleasures are truly ‘guilty’

Owen Peterson, Opinion Editor

Reality TV, rom-coms, playing games on your phone and scrolling through Zillow; all of these activities are often deemed “guilty pleasures,” but what reason is there to feel guilty about doing them?

First of all, the term “guilty pleasure” is commonly used as a way of describing an activity that you enjoy doing, but feel is embarrassing or shameful in some way. And in a broader sense, certain activities are labeled as “guilty pleasures” when they are seen as a bad use of time.

This notion that time spent on “guilty pleasures” is time being wasted is far from the whole story, though. In fact, there is research to show that these “guilty pleasures” are not only beneficial, but they are nothing to be ashamed of.

Leisure activities, so often labeled “guilty pleasures” because of the fact that they are seen as less valuable uses of time than pursuing work or school related goals, are actually extremely important in both bolstering happiness and, somewhat ironically, productivity.

On one hand, leisure activities, in whatever form (so long as they are harmless), are helpful because they give your brain a rest.

While it may seem theoretically ideal to spend as much time as you can afford on activities like studying, getting ahead on homework or picking up shifts to make more money, it is integral to give your brain a rest, as this will actually yield the best results.

“While we all believe we should spend our leisure time in uplifting pursuits that sharpen our minds and widen our understanding, your brain needs rest, just like every other organ.” Minda Zetlin, writer for, said in an article on guilty pleasures.

In addition to this, having a negative attitude toward your leisure activities (i.e. deeming them “guilty pleasures”) is detrimental because it deprives you of happiness, which is directly linked to being productive (Oxford study, 2019).

As obvious as it may sound, one of the purposes of an activity, like watching Netflix, is to gain enjoyment, so convincing yourself that you are wasting your time by doing such a thing will clearly make the experience less enjoyable, and therefore less beneficial.

The other important thing to understand here is that no harmless “guilty pleasure” is inherently bad (on the contrary, in fact), but thinking that it is a “guilty pleasure” will actually cause it to be detrimental.

This phenomenon was described by Dr. Robin Nabi in an interview with the New York Times.
“Feeling guilty about or disparaging activities we enjoy can diminish the benefits they offer us. But shedding self-imposed embarrassment about our interests can be empowering,” she said.

Even though certain activities, such as watching “The Bachelor,” are more prone to be looked down on as a “guilty pleasure,” there is not actually anything significantly more negative about them.

Whatever you choose to spend your leisure time doing, there is no reason to feel bad about it, and, in fact, not feeling bad about it is exactly what makes it a good use of time.

All that being said, it is easy to see why a concept like “guilty pleasures” can be harmful for many, college students in particular.

Between classes, jobs and the totally-not-daunting prospect of determining how the rest of your life will look, it can feel like any second not spent on advancing one of these goals is a moment that has been wasted, but this is not the case.

Not all leisure time is created equal, so having the right mindset when it comes to giving your mind a rest is essential for being happy and productive.

For example, framing an hour spent in between classes watching Netflix as time that you should have spent being “productive” versus framing it as giving your brain a rest and enjoying yourself can make a world of difference in your productivity and happiness.

It can be easy to get caught up in all the work of college, so making sure that you give yourself proper breaks is essential and forgetting the “guilty pleasure” schema is certainly part of that.