What Guilty Pleasures Mean for Your Mental Health

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Listen, we've all got to find ways to keep going while we're on coronavirus lockdown. No one knows how long the social distancing thing is going to last, and if you're not sheltering in place with someone you like, you're pretty much left to your own devices. This might seem tragic, and it's certainly not fun — but there is a bit of good news amid all the torpor.

Social psychologists at the University at Buffalo have just released a study into guilty pleasures, which for the purposes of this research they're calling "nontraditional social strategies." If you're spending the lockdown learning to play the ukulele or mainlining all of Avatar: The Last Airbender or figuring out how to bake bread from scratch, you're actually doing a pretty good job of supporting your own mental health.

"People can feel connected through all sorts of means. We found that more traditional strategies, like spending time with a friend in person, doesn't necessarily work better for people than nontraditional strategies, like listening to a favorite musician," says study coauthor Elaine Paravati. "In fact, using a combination of both of these types of strategies predicted the best outcomes, so it might be especially helpful to have a variety of things you do in your life to help you feel connected to others."

In other words, feeling like you belong to something outside yourself is what gets you through the day. It doesn't have to be person to person, and you can tell that to worried family and friends. "These aren't surrogates for real social connections," says coauthor Shira Gabriel; "these are real ways of feeling connected that are very important to people."