We all have at least one. I know I have many. You know: guilty pleasures. Guilty pleasures sound like a silly thing, an innocent activity masquerading as a secret. Guilty pleasures, an activity that you enjoy that seems inappropriate somehow. Some of these little things are a show or a movie we love, a book series, a video game, a hobby. The list could go on. Usually guilty pleasures are movies, shows, or books. I don’t think I have ever heard anyone say “Oh you know, making quilts is my guilty pleasure” or “I hate to admit it, but baking bread is a guilty pleasure of mine.” Of course not, it sounds ridiculous. I feel ridiculous just writing it out. Why are these things rarely considered guilty pleasures then? Well, I believe it is because many of those hobbies similar to the ones I described are productive, something is being created, a talent is being used. Contrary to those are the true guilty pleasures. These are things that we may not admit to our best friend, spouse, or even mother that we enjoy. Why do we feel the need to hide these activities?
One winter break I really wanted to read, but I didn’t want to think too much. I looked my bookshelf over a few times and finally pulled out The Twilight Saga by Stephanie Meyer. I am a notoriously fast reader and reread all four books in a week. Every nap time and after bedtime, I would pull out one of the books and immerse myself into the series. Thursday night I had a few chapters left of the last book; I stayed up to almost one in the morning to finish. My poor husband tried snuggling with me while I read. He gave up and went to bed. When I finished, I got ready and went to bed, only to find that my husband was waiting for me. As I spent time with him in the late hours, he informed me that he had missed me all week, but didn’t want to interrupt my reading because it was nice to see me reading again.
I felt a little embarrassed after this. Here I was, the last weeks of winter break and I was spending time reading several books that didn’t do much for me. They didn’t teach me anything, I didn’t come away feeling enlightened and worst of all, they robbed me of precious time I could have spent strengthening family bonds. I spent a few days mulling over my week. I found myself in a mini funk. I decided I needed something that wouldn’t hold me hostage from my family. In my free time I watched Gilmore Girls on Netflix. I realized that I was doing it again. Here I was using my perfectly good time to binge watch a show. I really started thinking about life and time management.
There is nothing wrong with reading a mindless novel now and again, nor watching a show or two, but how are we spending the bulk of our time matters.
Many researchers have spent countless hours looking at the negative effects of media on people. I’m sure we all have heard of at least one study or another that screams that it is terrible to enjoy the media at all. We all should move to Amish country and never involve ourselves in such terrible life suckers. There are studies that show that after being exposed to violent TV shows or video games, people are more likely to participate in mean actions towards others, and less likely to help those in needs.
One of my favorites looked at the effects of death metal music on the teenage mind. After having two groups of people, those who listened to the death metal and those who did not, they asked the participants to add hot sauce to an unsuspecting person’s drink. The ones who listened to the music added as many as 16 drops of hot sauce, while the ones who did not only would add 1 drop if they felt pressured to do so. The good thing that these studies found is that after a certain amount of time away from negative media, the side effects seemed to dissipate. What does this mean for us? Well if you feel like you are struggling with anger issues, apathy, body issues, self-worth, or any other issue that could be caused by an over exposure to media, removing that media source from your life, the problem will get better over time.
Another example of something similar from my personal life is reading books. Reading is a passion of mine. I love books. I love owning books. I love rereading books. When I was nineteen I discovered that I have a crazy talent for reading really fast. When I was twenty six I realized I read 800 pages in five hours (on average). Before children, I had plenty of free time to just read and read. There was a time when my husband worked nights and I worked days. In the evenings when I was home alone, I would read. During this time, I reread most of the books on my bookshelves. I decided to tackle the Harry Potter series again. By the time I was in the fifth book, I found myself feeling moody and aggressive towards everyone. When people asked why I was so keyed up, I wouldn’t know why I was acting the way I was. It wasn’t long after that I realized Harry was feeling moody and aggressive towards his friends and I was reflecting the moods of the book. I remembered times when in summer I had read a book describing winter and suddenly felt so cold I needed a blanket, or in the winter, reading about a desert and feeling too hot.
I made the connection. Reading has such a profound effect on us mentally and physically. I realized I needed to be careful in the books I read, as it could affect me and how I interacted with others. My cousin and I had a conversation about this. She and I discussed why books have such a stronger power over us than TV and movies. The thing with books is that they are all in our heads. We create what each character, scenery and action look like in our mind. With it all in our mind, we have more of a bond to it, versus TV and movies where everything is created for us and projected outside of us.
What does all of this have to do with guilty pleasures? Well I think there is a difference between a guilty pleasure and an escaping activity. While reading The Twilight Saga was more of an escaping activity at face value: the books have no ill effects on me, yet have no positive effects either, they quickly turned guilty when they monopolized too much of my time.
Guilt is a protective mechanism that helps us recognize when we have done something wrong and are in need of repair. Guilt being to the spirit what pain is to the body. Having a guilty pleasure sounds like enjoying a wrong choice, or enjoying spiritual pain. This is not to say you should never have any mindless, stupid, or silly activity that you enjoy doing. This just means that we should be careful that these activities are not taking us away from what we should be doing. We also should be careful that these activities are not causing serious damage to our spirits. Reading is good, but we should not read books that cause us to have impure or bad thoughts or feelings. Video games are fun, but playing games of a degrading nature is damaging to our spirits, TV and movies are enjoyable, but watching ones riddled with violence, sex, and immoral behavior is desecrating our temple.
The over use of our pointless enjoyment can also lead to problems. There is nothing wrong with relaxing after a long day and watching a good show or two; but if we watch those shows all day and it keeps us from doing what we should be doing (spending time with family, working, building talents, serving others, etc.) then that pointless enjoyment hurts our spirit and turns into a guilty pleasure. Balance and good time management is the key. If we keep our priorities in order, then we will find we have time for all important and good activities, including the occasional pointless enjoyment.