I was born and raised an Irish Catholic. From the time I was young I had no interest in Catholicism or any other religion, but it seems that the feelings of guilt and a distrust of happiness have solidly made their way into me. I can laugh with the rest of them and I do allow myself an ironic humor, but I don’t seem to ever really let go into joy. Something always stops me inside—a feeling that I am doing something wrong. Do you have any recommendations for getting rid of it? ~L.M., Dublin, Ireland
As British biologist and author Richard Dawkins points out, the religious conditioning that dampens and makes suspect all enjoyment of life is a form of child abuse. It is time we see it as such. But recognizing the conditioning is a first step. One has to challenge and override this conditioning when, at the first sign of joy, that sinking or guilty feeling starts to arise. Let your attention quickly deconstruct the negative feeling (“there’s that ole religious nonsense again”) and then, without reacting to the fact that it has arisen, shift the attention onto the pleasurable feeling or emotion. This is a reversal of an old habit and need not occur all at once. It is enough that it gradually diminishes over time. You may also want to join The Awakening Joy Course online with James Baraz to literally practice happiness. ~Catherine
When I am with people I am always trying to entertain them, and I end up doing a lot of the talking. I have to admit that it makes people uncomfortable sometimes, which I usually don’t notice until I think about it later. Sometimes I notice even while I am in the middle of doing it, but I can’t stop. It is something that I have lived with for a long time, and it affects my friendships and also my position at work. Recently some friends had a gathering to which I was not invited. When I asked about it, one friend said that they just wanted to have a chance to talk with each other, implying that if I were there, they would not have been able to. I was hurt by this and want to accommodate them, but I also want to be myself as I am and be accepted as that. Please comment. ~E.B., Gresham, Oregon
There may be another option that you have not considered whereby you don’t contort yourself into a different shape in order to be accepted, and at the same time you no longer dominate your social situations with excessive talking and entertaining. A little restraint seems in order. Cut back on the entertainment, listen more, and talk less. If that feels too compromising for you, then you have the choice to accept the occasional exclusion from the company of your friends—or find new friends who enjoy you exactly as you are. ~Catherine
My best friend and my husband have begun to develop such a special bond that I no longer feel comfortable having her over to our house and I have also been withdrawing from her in our friendship. She is hurt by this, especially because, as she and my husband both assure me, nothing inappropriate has ever gone on between them. But I notice little things that make me feel that something could happen with them in the future, the way they are always laughing at each other’s jokes, for instance, or the way that they sometimes look at each other. I hate to be so petty and jealous, but I can’t seem to relax in their company any longer. She and I are both very upset about the situation and though we have had some talks about it, I don’t see any other way to deal with this. I don’t want to be in the cop position of making sure that the two of them are not having too many laughs or that they don’t look at each other too much. ~N.N., San Anselmo, CA
If having your friend and your husband in the same house is intolerable for you, then don’t do it. (Your fear is not entirely unjustified, given the number of times that best friends and mates run off together; putting naturally compatible people in the same room foments this possibility.) You could perhaps continue your friendship with your friend on neutral ground for the time being. However, you didn’t mention your husband’s position in this or your own feelings with regard to him. There is an issue of trust that you will need to examine or you may find yourself having to exile yet another woman friend from your home, and, of course, your home is not the only place your husband might enjoy the company of women. It may be that you are fending off a particularly risky situation by curtailing your best friend’s home visits, or it may be a symptom of a deeper issue within your marriage.