IF YOU'RE feeling stressed, miserable or anxious, have a large glass of wine. Or eat some chocolate, or have a nice, strong cup of coffee. Or even (gosh) smoke a cigarette. Because any or all of these, unhealthy as they may be, will make you feel better - official. The Association for Research into the Science of Enjoyment (Arise) can prove it.

Arise held its first meeting in 1989, convened by Professor David Warburton, head of the Psychopharmacology department at Reading University. He was studying stress at the time, and had noticed along the way that fun was noticeably under-researched. "If you feed the subject `stress' into a medical database, you get a printout two or three metres high. If you put in `pleasure', you get a couple of articles on condoms and contraception," he observes.

Prof Warburton and a bunch of like-minded learned friends set about testing the properties of chocolate, alcohol, caffeine and cigarettes, applying methods used to test the effectiveness of anti-depressants. "A glass of wine cheers people up, so does one or two cups of coffee, and puff by puff on a cigarette people become calmer." Up to four squares of chocolate also had a positive effect - "after that most people started to feel rather sick," recalls Prof Warburton.

From these beginnings, Arise has grown, and now numbers around 50 members and associates, all sharing an interest in pleasure. They include psychopharmacologists, psychoendocrinologists, medical researchers, philosophers and sociologists. They follow each other's research with interest, read the Arise newsletter, and assemble annually for the Arise Conference - this year's was in Amsterdam. Surely this meeting must be a frantic orgy of consumption - erm, testing - of pleasurable substances? No, says Prof Warburton disappointingly. "We do have a nice dinner, but it is a serious academic gathering. We are trying to put science into pleasure, but without taking the fun out of it."

One of the most exciting scientifically-endorsed Arise contentions is that trying to avoid nice but naughty self-indulgences can actually be worse than giving in to temptation - because failure in the self-denial stakes leads to guilt. "Guilt is a negative mood state, which is not good. Guilt and depression go together, and unhappiness is a predictor of illness," warns Prof Warburton.

Arise has a refreshingly common-sense slant on the frequently conflicting reports on foods and drinks, where, according to what you read, coffee or red wine is hailed as a health saviour one week and the rankest poison the next. "At one of our last meetings, one of our members coined the word sceptic-emia to describe our standpoint."

Sadly, though, Arise is less hedonistic than it might seem. The unrestrained consumption of champagne, Belgian truffles and Cuban cigars is not recommended. "We emphasise moderation," explains Prof Warburton. "Most people are self- regulating - when people are over-consuming, it says more about the person than what they're consuming. We're not promoting any particular lifestyle, but we are against the homogenising of pleasures - the idea that there is only one way to live your life. Jogging and bran muffins are fine, but only if you like jogging and bran muffins. We have a very serious point - that pleasure is good for your health. I myself," he adds daringly, "rather enjoy a glass of wine."



Despite the fact that it is disgusting stuff loaded with additives, margarine has for years been touted as the healthier alternative and has now been joined by a host of equally vile "low-fat spreads". Butter, however is fighting back, with an ad campaign in which the Butter Council branded the "margarine is good for you" line as a myth. But don't forget, margarine is rich in polyunsaturates (whatever they are).


Since the Seventies, coffee has been blamed for heart trouble, but in June it had a reprieve. British researchers disproved Swedish reports that coffee ups cholesterol levels, and discovered it doesn't affect blood pressure. In March, though, a mould found on coffee beans was linked to kidney cancer, while earlier this year a link was made between asthma and exposure at work to coffee dust, and between caffeine and spontaneous abortion. But if you're thinking of switching to decaff, think again. In America, doctors found that drinking regular coffee had no implications whatsoever for heart disease - but decaff increased its likelihood by 60 per cent.


A common migraine trigger, and, weight for weight, fattier than chips. But! Latest research says that the fat in chocolate doesn't raise cholesterol levels in the same way as other saturated fats. And it contains phenylethylamine - a natural antidepressant - magnesium, calcium, vitamins and iron. It may be addictive, though: an alarming survey in 1992 said that chocoholics feed their craving in secret and suffer violent mood swings if deprived of the stuff.


1994 was a good year for wine-lovers. Medical researchers announced that four drinks in the evening (yes, every evening) will reduce the risk of a heart attack the following morning - the time of greatest risk; a Danish professor said both men and women can drink up to 69 units a week and stay healthy; and a French company, Arkopharma, introduced a red wine tablet called French Paradox, supposed to contain the good parts of red wine without the alcohol. Sadly, a spoilsport coalition of health pressure groups has set out to ruin the poor drinker's fun. The Royal Colleges of Physicians, Psychiatrists and General Practitioners have come down against alcohol, and the World Health Organisation's substance abuse programme says that the best way to handle alcohol is to avoid it altogether.