Guilt blunts our appetite for pleasure

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The Independent Online
The British capacity for enjoyment is outstripped only by that of the Dutch, according to the first ever International Pleasure League, which also reveals the Germans as more miserable and more guilt-ridden than anyone else in Europe.

However, the UK is one of the top three countries in an accompanying International Guilt League, which suggests that while we enjoy our pleasure, we pay for it afterwards, suffering more remorse than just about everyone except the Australians and Germans.

The "Catholic" countries of Italy, Belgium, and Spain, where guilt is assumed to be genetically in-built, are actually below average in the guilt stakes, possibly because of the availability of the confessional and the chance to wipe the slate clean, and start again.

Overall, just over 40 per cent of the British population feel guilty about everyday pleasures like chocolate, sex, and drinking, even though the majority "partake in moderation and are not harming others". A total of 43 per cent of Europeans said they would enjoy themselves more if they did not feel so guilty.

The activities which generate most guilt are health-related, confirming the worst suspicions of ARISE (Associates for Research into the Science of Enjoyment) which commissioned the investigation, and whose members - including some maverick doctors and right-wing philosophers - are stridently opposed to the "new religion of healthism".

Smoking, eating chocolate, over-indulgence in cakes and ice-cream, and failure to exercise - all of which are the focus of health campaigns - prompted the heaviest outpourings of guilt in the 4,000 adults from eight countries who took part.

Shopping for pleasure, alcohol, and watching television and videos were in the second division of the Guilt League, followed by eating red meat and dairy products, having sex, dining out, and even drinking tea and coffee.

Overall, listening to music was the number one international pleasure, followed by sex, out of 13 "everyday pleasures" identified by the researchers. But in a national breakdown of pleasures, sex was given the highest pleasure rating by British men of any other pleasure in the survey.

ARISE, which made headlines earlier this year with a gourmet's feast at a top London restaurant overseen by Albert Roux, says the guilt-trap is detrimental to physical and mental health. Chronic guilt can induce stress and depression which could lead to eating disorders and contribute to ulcers, heart problems, and even brain damage.

Dr Neil Sherwood, a psychopharmacologist at Reading University, and ARISE member, said "A favourite treat, such as a cup of tea or coffee, a glass of wine or beer, a cigarette or a bar of chocolate, reduces stress and helps people relax."