How to Get the Happiness You Deserve

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The Need to Indulge

The key element seems to be that nugget of naughtiness. "It's so satisfying when you feel like you're getting away with something," says Beth, 38, a mother of a toddler in Eugene, Oregon, who has never confessed to anyone her fetish for a certain fast-food sausage-cheese-and-egg sandwich, which she indulges in only via drive-through ("for the anonymity").

"The thing that's so goofy is that you're an adult, you don't have to 'get away' with stuff, but it adds a bit of deliciousness to it all when you feel like you're doing something people wouldn't approve of," Beth adds.

Psychotherapist Daphne Stevens, author of Watercolor Bedroom: Creating a Soulful Midlife (Authorhouse, 2004), wishes we could pry the guilt off the treat. "Pleasure is our birthright," she says, "and yet we often act as though we're on a pleasure diet. 'Oh, no, I can't take this hour for myself to read or sit in a cafe and drink a cup of coffee.'"

She believes that guilty pleasures are what clinicians would call a "reaction formation." In other words, what you truly feel when you watch your favorite trashy reality TV show is pretty darn happy. But you can't admit that to yourself. So you throw in guilt, Stevens says, "to prove you're suffering. It's like saying, 'I am having this pleasure, but I also feel guilty, so does that make it okay?'"

The sneaky fun, the secret guilt -- sound familiar? A number of women said their guilty pleasure evoked their childhoods. Anna, 40, a public-interest advocate and new mother in Washington, D.C., says her love of reading for hours (which she rarely gets to do these days) dates back to when she was a kid and would literally climb a tree in order to relish her favorite passion uninterrupted. In fact, as a nod to the need of even the most sophisticated adults to nourish their inner child, the Four Seasons Restaurant, in New York City, offers a $10 serving of cotton candy -- on a china plate, no less. "People really love it, regardless of their age," says reservationist Julius Mariano.

Continued on page 3:  Choose Your Battles


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