Is there such a thing as a healthy vice? I believe so.
And no, this is not just a huge rationalization, though there may be a touch of personal justification colouring my view on the topic.
But here’s the thing: when you live in a country where the winters are long, cold and dark, things can get a little bleak. They call it Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). I prefer Serious Attitude Disturbance. We’re in the midst of a cold snap that keeps us indoors for long stretches of time, and the lack of sunshine combined with more than a touch of cabin fever can certainly contribute to a melancholy mood.
It’s at times like this, whether it be the long months of winter or some other elongated period of stress, boredom, or hardship, that we often find ourselves craving things we know aren’t particularly good for us; those foods and behaviors that we would otherwise be able to resist.
The dictionary definition of a vice is indicative of the judgements we hold surrounding such things. If we look at the everyday usage of the word, it typically describes a habit that reveals a weakness in one’s character (though not usually a serious fault).
Let’s assume for the sake of our discussion that we’re not speaking of more harmful addictions such as those to drugs, alcohol or gambling for example, or times of struggle with serious emotional or mental health issues.
For more benign life scenarios, though everyone’s version of a bad habit will be slightly different, they likely all refer to something that, in the long run, detracts from the quality of one’s life instead of adding to it. We may think of such things as over-indulging in sweets and rich foods, drinking too much, smoking, watching too much TV, sleeping the day away, or lazing on the couch for hours on end.
Understanding why we indulge in habits that we know don’t serve us might help. On the surface, we indulge because it makes us feel better in some way. We typically feel the urge to indulge in bad habits when we are desiring comfort, pleasure, or distraction.
These reasons are not inherently wrong. We are wonderfully self-regulating beings, and when something feels off, we naturally seek ways to remedy the situation. And though doing something that we know is truly unhealthy for us is not a great choice for our long-term happiness, choosing something that feels a little naughty can be just what we need for a short-term boost.
Looking at the typical habits and indulgence that most people consider ‘bad for you’, it’s not coincidence that the majority involve some sort of sensory pleasure. We live through our senses, and we are naturally, even biologically, wired to seek pleasure.
When our bodies and minds are denied the experience of pleasure for too long – for example during long winter months, or as a result of working too much, or forcing our way through a restrictive & punishing diet and exercise routine – we will find ourselves craving it in some form or another.
Here’s where choice comes in. If we wait until we are in such a state of craving and desire for pleasure that we have little to no self-control over what we choose as our source of gratification, we are likely to over-do it, or make terrible choices. But if we cultivate a selection of healthier indulgences, we can satisfy our cravings and feel better without causing undo harm.
If we also make a point to indulge mindfully, staying present in order to fully savor the pleasure our ‘treat’ provides us, we are also more likely to feel satisfied without overdoing it or needing to repeat too frequently. The key to healthy indulgences and ‘good’ bad habits is moderation and control, instead of unconscious, mindless bingeing and consumption.
So what are some examples of healthier indulgences and habits? Here are a few to consider that are known to have health benefits when enjoyed in moderation:
- chocolate (especially dark)
- red wine
- sleeping in
- playing hooky (only when your job is not at risk!)
- rich, high fat foods (butter, full-fat cream, cheese)
- cozying on the couch with your favorite series for a mini ‘binge’
- getting a massage
Paying attention to the quality of your chosen indulgence, and staying present and mindful so that you fully enjoy the experience is key to being able to satisfy a craving without overdoing it in terms of quantity or frequency. Allowing yourself to fully feel the pleasure in the indulgence without guilt or remorse is also key.
Now, if you don’t mind, I’m going to blow off work so I can have a nap before I enjoy my chocolate mousse.