Wave goodbye to guilt to boost your feel-good factor

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The Independent Online
BON VIVEURS enjoy better health than their guilt-ridden peers, despite their questionable habits. In a study of the balance between pleasure and guilt, psychologists have found that while eating and drinking to excess is foolhardy, being merry goes some way to compensate for the damage.

Researchers from Hull University asked 300 people to list their main sources of enjoyment and record their feelings about them. They were also questioned about their health. The results showed that people who rated their pleasures highly had fewer episodes of colds and flu and went to the doctor less while those with more guilty feelings were more susceptible to illness.

The survey contained some surprises. Sex and shopping were rated equally highly for pleasure, but shopping was associated with more guilt. Eating chocolate and watching Neighbours on TV produced high levels of guilt. Having bubble baths and, surprisingly, flirting, were the only highly pleasurable activities that were rated entirely guilt-free.

Some respondents named unusual sources of pleasure such as fighting and winding people up. Smoking cannabis was highly rated for pleasure and brought little guilt.

Dr Geoff Lowe, who presented the findings to the British Psychological Society's annual conference in Brighton yesterday, said the current dos and don'ts promoted by health educators could produce perverse effects.

"Maybe we should think more about pleasure and less about guilt. We have to have guilty feelings to turn us off those habits that are bad for us. But if we enjoy our pleasures and we don't feel bad about them, that may be better for our health. Enjoyment is good for us," he said.

Other research has shown that psychological well being is related to immune function and pleasure can enhance it. Chronic guilt may increase levels of stress hormones which are known to deplete immune function. He added that the importance of enjoyment applied even to behaviour which was acknowledged to be bad for health, like smoking. "If people smoke and get a lot of pleasure out of smoking and feel little guilt they may suffer fewer harmful effects than someone who smokes and feels guilty about it. There is then a double whammy effect - they suffer the ill effects of smoking and those of feeling guilty about it."

Babies in the womb can distinguish an English folk dance tune from a Welsh lullaby and remember it weeks later after birth, psychologists claim.

Psychologists from the Universities of Keele and Bath played music to pregnant women from the 20th week of pregnancy and saw a visible response in the babies when it was played to them a fortnight after the birth. If confirmed, the finding suggests foetal learning begins weeks earlier than had been thought. Stephen Evans, who presented the findings to the British Psychological Society, said the findings had implications for the care of premature babies in hospital where they were exposed to noisy ventilators which could affect the development of their hearing. Efforts should be made to mimic more closely the environment of the mother's womb, he said.

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