How to Get the Happiness You Deserve
Sometimes, when the pressures of my life reach a fever pitch, bing! -- my get-a-treat button sounds. Usually I make do with a brownie or window-shopping, but whenever I can swing it, my favorite clandestine comfort is to take myself out to dinner. I don't seek out white tablecloths and five-course meals. Instead, I plunk myself down at a place near my home that makes a sensational thin-crust pizza. With mushrooms. Which is great, because the thrill of this guilty little pleasure (I know there is not much nutritional upside here) isn't about a gourmet extravagance, it's about an emotional one. A mushroom pizza, a glass of Coke, and...me. Do I feel remorse later for relishing my pizza dinner for one? Yes, a little, but that doesn't ruin the experience. Instead it makes me savor the treat even more.
And that's the beauty of these secret moments. Your furtive little indulgence might involve food, fantasy, fun, or escape -- or all at once! From shopping to napping, from reading torrid paperbacks you hope the kids don't find to test-driving cars you can't afford, these are the things that lift your spirits, unravel your cares, restore your soul. We all have a different guilt threshold. Some women feel fully entitled to daily indulgences, while others are racked with remorse if they take time away from their family for a monthly manicure.
According to Susan Newman, PhD, author of Little Things Long Remembered: Making Your Children Feel Special Every Day (Crown, 1996), women who crave guilty pleasures the most are those with their plates piled highest, particularly working moms (who may also be caring for their aging parents). "We live in such a driven society, yet we don't feel we have the right to pamper ourselves," says Dr. Newman, a psychologist in Metuchen, New Jersey. "If you relax in the bath, you find yourself thinking, 'I should be organizing the vacation photos or taking my daughter to the playground.' There are so many 'shoulds' in our lives."
Jennifer, 38, a real-estate manager in Scottsdale, Arizona, agrees. "I have three kids and I feel like I'm the wife, I'm the mom, I'm the employee, but when do I get to be me?" She has found one way. At night, after everyone is asleep, she sneaks down to the family's pool. "I take off my clothes, dive in, float on my back, and stare at the stars for half an hour," she says. Even her husband hasn't caught on. "If he notices my wet hair, he thinks I've been doing laps for exercise." And that's fine. "I feel like I'm being a little bit bad, but it helps me to get a piece of my time back that I don't have to share. It's my rebellion."
For many women, the solo aspect delivers a kick because they're stealing time, a painfully scarce commodity. But there's another factor: Nothing kills the fun faster than having to share. Guilty pleasures are built for one, and it's that molecule of secrecy that binds the pleasure to the guilt. What makes up our formulas can be mysterious. A happily married friend of mine frequents a certain drugstore because she has an ongoing (and innocent) flirtation with the handsome pharmacist. Another likes to try on boxes of shoes in chic boutiques.