Why Scientists Say You Should Be Committing the 7 Deadly Sins

Sinning ain't what it used to be. Past societies considered many things to be sinful that we would let slide or even celebrate today. And if one were to take every line in the Bible as law, you would never get a tattoo, gossip, or wear a goatee.

But could the big baddies — the Seven Deadly Sins — ever be considered good for you? Turns out in one way or another, science supports some version of all of them.

1. Pride

Pride's developed a bad rep in years past, but nowadays we're always being told we should have pride in ourselves, our school team, and even our ethnicity. So which is it?

Apparently both, according to laboratory research by psychologists Jessica Tracy and Richard Robins, who isolated two distinct forms of price: hubris (bad) and "authentic pride" (good). People who exhibit authentic pride value hard work and tend to be engaged with life. And did you know that Mark Zuckerberg started Facebook to boost his pride?

2. Greed

"Greed is healthy," alpha trader (and later convicted felon and Gordon Gekko inspiration) Ivan Boesky famously told UC Berkeley grads. But is it really?

Greed is an easy sin to condemn, in part because it's so easy to hate people who have taken more than their share. Look up Forbes' list of billionaires and ask yourself how fond you feel of each of those individuals. Any of the super rich who are well liked probably get their following from donating large portions of their wealth — an apparent lack of greed.

But let's be honest: We're biologically programmed to go out and get what we need. "Greed is what gets you and me out of our beds and off to work. It's what keeps us out of debt and saving for our retirement," certified financial planner Neal Frankle wrote.

Greed is almost always good for the individual that feels it, but it could be bad for the individual's society, writes Washington State University communications professor Richard F. Taflinger. But laws that constrain individual greed too much could also be harmful, because people whose greed isn't rewarded can lose the will to work. Look at all the failed communes out there.

"Unrestrained greed is detrimental to society; unrestrained disapproval of greed is detrimental to society. People attempt to find a balance between biological imperative and social necessity," Taflinger writes.

3. Envy

Marcia Reynolds, Psy.D. and author of Wander Woman: How High-Achieving Women Find Contentment and Direction, counsels that we can harness feelings of envy or jealousy to push us forward in our careers.

"Envy can open up doors you never saw or were afraid to walk through before. Jealousy can lead you to treasure things and people you might have taken for granted," Reynolds writes in Psychology Today.

For instance, if you find yourself feeling envious of a colleague who won an award for something you also do, ask yourself what you can learn from your colleague's success? What is she doing that you're not?

4. Wrath

Carnegie Mellon psychologist Jennifer Lerner studied anger by forcing test subjects to count backwards by sevens on camera, and making them start over every time they goofed. People who exhibited fear showed higher biological signs of stress than people who showed anger. And as any woman who has given birth probably knows, another sign of wrath, letting loose a few expletives, is clinically proven to relieve pain.

So shout, shout, get it all out. It's healthy!

5. Lust

You might have already heard that sex is good for you when you're in a committed relationship; it's aerobic, reduces stress, and so forth. But that's boring old "in a relationship" sex. What about lusty sex? As in, outside a relationship sex?

Turns out that how hooking up affects people's wellbeing depends on their motivation for hooking up. According to New York University and Cornell researchers, undergrads who "slept around" actually felt better after sex — as long as they were hooking up for positive reasons like the fun of it. If they were engaging in revenge sex or had been pressured into the act, the emotional consequences were negative.

6. Gluttony

In the history of mankind, stuffing as much as we could down our gullets was surely the way to go.

"Binging was probably useful in our evolutionary past, when food was scarce and our ancestors needed to eat as much as possible after they came across a berry patch or brought down a fresh kill on the hunt," writes Karen Schrock Simring in "Accidental Gluttons" for Scientific American.

But now that an era of plenty has exposed residents of the world's wealthy nations to the dangers of obesity and diabetes? We can only say that scientists would advise you to be a glutton for the right foods. If you're going to indulge, at least indulge in some nutrients you might otherwise be lacking.

7. Sloth

Do coworkers give you the evil eye because you take a break for a personal phone call, or a nap on the lobby couch mid-afternoon? You might need to find a lower-profile place to nap, but don't stop taking breaks.

A study from the journal Cognition showed that taking even the briefest of breaks can improve your performance on tasks, meaning that when you look like you're slacking, you're probably gearing up to outperform your nose-to-the-grindstone co-workers.

The benefits of naps are well documented. The National Sleep Foundation acknowledges that nappers may be burdened with the stigma of being lazy or having low standards, but asserts that if we get past that, many of us — especially shift workers and long-distance drivers — can really benefit from a 10-minute nap now and then.

Do you regularly run afoul of these sins? For good or ill?

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Guest's picture

I wonder what scientist would say about the corresponding seven virtues?