What Will Make Me Happy: Reframing My Desires with Martha Beck

My List:

1. A trip to the Bahamas (with Grace) – swimming with dolphins.

2. Someone taking me to dinner – I’m thinking romance here (or bona fide, intimate friendship).

3. Plenty of money in my bank account – no worries about if I’ll break even this month.

4. More time to rest, exercise, linger over a good book – I’m thinking more free time.

5. And, as Martha Beck would say: Creative Problem Solving.

In the book Finding Your Own North Star, Martha Beck is taking me, the reader, on a journey to find my “essential self” — which she explains is the part of me that is my true North (my life purpose, my joy-bringer). This “essential self” is often in opposition to my “social self” (the side of me that thinks about what Everybody else might say or think about me – or as we have called it before “The Joneses”). One treasure of this journey of the essential self is me really knowing what brings me happiness. And, a way to get there.

I’m kind of old. So, there is a lot about me, just from reaching my forties that I know brings me joyful feelings: I am open to and enjoy exploring new ideas; I love coffee, yoga, meditation, learning lines from favorite films, and spending time with my daughter. Tulips, deliciously scented candles, and varying hues of blue are all yummy, too! Also, I tend to lose all sense of space and time when I am teaching a great lesson, watching Grace smile, or feeling “in love” (with a person, a place, thing or even an idea – oh how I love nouns; Let me count the ways…).

All of the above bring joy.

“But, wait, did you imply you are NOT happy?” you ask. For me to answer in either definitive  direction is a process. And before you feel sad or sorry for me, let me clarify the journey: mostly, I know what brings or adds happiness to my overall life experience — such as the potential for gaining My List above. Of course, I know that “stuff” can add to life’s joy factor!

Yet, what I am interested in exploring, with Beck’s help (and with Life’s assistance, too) is this thing she calls Emotional Happiness (EH).  In my “Emotionally Safe Environment” my EH will blossom, like a spring tulip.

What is an Emotionally Safe (ES) Environment?

It’s where I can dig out my “shrapnel” from my past hurts, childhood wounds, and crummy experiences (and we have all had some CRUMMY stuff by the time we get to forty, right?). Then, I allow healing.

In “Chapter Seven: Repairing Your Emotional Compass”, Beck has lead me through diagnosing my emotional injuries (like ‘stuffing my anger instead of standing up for myself’), then to treating my wounds (and all those in my frontline tribe of friends who are a ‘sane and sympathetic audience’, um – thank you!), to having compassion for myself (a tough road considering I am a life-long perfectionist).

So, as I get real with myself and heal, in a gentle way, and in a safe place, with safe people (my ES environment) “bursts of enthusiasm and new ideas” are born from my inner healing. So True.

So, how does this ES Environment bring EH?

According to Beck, it’s all about the deal with me finding my “essential self”: my life purpose, my joy-bringer- What Will Make Me Happy!!!!. On My List it’s more about gaining number 5: Creative Problem Solving, than number 1, 2, 3, or 4.

You see, number 5 has nothing to do with things or other people.  According to Beck understanding “my own basic needs, not external circumstances” will bring me EH (Emotional Health).  On My List 4 out of 5  involve external circumstances (1, 2, 3 and 4), such as people’s actions (more vacation time or a boss giving me a raise, for example)…

…I even thought of adding a non-negotiable number 6: Grace’s good health and happiness.

The trouble is this: If I continue to depend on another person’s behavior (like my daughter no longer debating dinner options) or a hoped for experience, Emotional Happiness may not be attainable for me.

Because what Beck suggests here, as a happiness booster, is a shift in thought: What is the emotion I would be feeling if I had all the stuff, the relationship, and all the money I want?

My “emotional” answer: Fulfillment. A basic need for me is to feel that I am realizing a desire, or feeling fulfilled.

So, using Beck’s wisdom, how do I (or WE) go about getting that feeling?

If I get what I want, I will feel fulfilled. For example, how do I feel fulfilled without getting that luxurious Bahamas trip?

SIMPLE: What I really want is to fully and zestfully experience my life.

So, what I do now, is reconfigure what my present resources can do.

Beck says, “Reframe your desires”.

Here’s My New “Reframed” (and accomplished) List:

  1. Find fun water adventures, locally with Grace: We went to Salisbury Beach Reservation and saw the wild seals sunbathing on the rocks! Mammals are mammals after all.
  2. Enjoy dinner with a loving friend or family member: We had Chinese with Auntie #1, homemade chicken soup with Auntie #2, and French toast with strawberries with a favorite friend at our own comfy kitchen table!
  3. Appreciate the money I do have: It brought us to Disney on Ice, and I didn’t worry about how I was going to pay for going to “Disney”!
  4.  Achieve more Free-time: We had school vacation this week! Daily Agenda: Rise later and read more! Done.
  5. Creative Problem Solving: a best friend came over and helped me comb over paper work and find a solution that my eyes could not find! Thank you, Bestie!

Fulfillment. That’s it. That’s what made me happy this week. This was my “essential self” in action. I didn’t get a raise or luxurious trip. Yet, I am fulfilled.

Months ago my “social self” would have compared these apples to someone else’s apples. I really did care what someone else thought…I did. But, sadly, back then, I had not created an Emotionally Safe Environment for myself, either.

Certainly, My List (first one) is still attainable. “And, what about non-negotiable number 6?” you ask. Fortunately, Grace is doing great! Surely, she’s lining up a debate for tomorrow’s breakfast: eggs vs pancakes. Heck, it might be fulfilling to have both! Certainly, it’s achievable.

If you were to reframe your desires to achieve happiness this week, what would your list look like?

Feel free to share! And I offer cheers and love to your “essential self”!

Wishes of fulfillment, too.

Blessings and peace,

Pamela Rae


Ice On Trees: Standing in My “Generational-Conditioned” Truth

“1” Cold. Icy. Uncomfortable. Because, when it comes to trees, I am an autumn- girl.

I like to do this a lot with my students: “On a scale of 1 – 5 evaluate how much you liked the ending to Romeo and Juliet (or any text). Then, in 3 words and one phrase explain why.

Here’s the rating scale: 1 = not much and 5 = a lot and 3 = it’s okay.”

I’m guessing you’ve had some experience with ‘evaluating feelings’. A situation crops up in your life: someone wants you to meet their deadline, wants you to take on the majority of the work, or wants to talk/text on their cell-phone during an important meeting/conversation. And, if you were asked to evaluate it on a scale of 1 – 5, in how good it makes you feel, you’d flat out say “1”.

Now, I was a teenager in the Eighties, too. So, if you read this and you think “I have no problem with someone putting technology before me – who am I to ask for their full attention?” I am NOT saying your thinking is wrong. Heck, I’m not even sure what you are thinking. I am simply saying, “We think differently.”

Understand the Eighties-generational-conditioning I bring here:

In the Eighties we wore fluorescent clothing, held stock in Aqua Net hair spray, and deeply labeled people: jock, burn-out, punk rocker, nerd etc. Not things I’m proud of participating in! (In fact, I still use way too much hair spray!) But, if something important needed to be communicated, we talked: eye to eye, face to face, person to person. My fellow-Eighties participants know what it means to look for a pay-phone in public, go to the main office to call our parents in school, or wait till “we got home” to share an experience with our parents in full detail, face to face. No glossing over the details, in a quick text for us! And, that’s how it was.

So what does today’s technological communication movement have to do with icy trees, being an Eighties-child, and a scale of 1 – 5? Here it is:

I am homing in on what situations contribute to me feeling good (5), and what situations lower me down the scale of feeling pretty icky (1). So, let me clarify. Ice and snow on trees,  while it holds a certain mystique, it’s not my seasonal situation of choice.  Auburn and golden leaves creating a colorful canopy through country back roads, on a Sunday drive to pick apples – now that’s a 5 on my feel good scale. Comfort. Nostalgia. Warmth. Because, when it comes to trees, I am an autumn-girl. And when it comes to communication, I am an Eighties-child.

When it comes to communication, I’m a person to person, face to face girl. Give me that situation, and on a scale of  1- 5, I’ll say “5.” And whenever I try to use technology, to get my peers, my students, my colleagues, my family, to understand me fully. I fall short, every single time.

Why?  It’s like comparing ice on trees to color on trees. One just makes me feel better than the other. Now, if you are an avid skier/snow-boarder, we are going to butt heads a bit on the beauty of ice vs color. And if you are an avid texter, Facebook-er, Tweet-er, Instagram-er, we’ll have some contrast here, too. (Notice – I just labeled you – it’s an Eighties-thing: sorry.)

There’s a great phrase I learned this year. It’s called: A Healthy Disagreement. This is when we are in contrast with another: we haven’t reached a mutual understanding (with our family-member, friend, lover, students, colleagues, associates), yet – but both sides are compelled to stand in our truth. And I want you stand tall in your truth. But I hope you want me to stand tall in my truth, too. And that’s the “Healthy” in the “Healthy Disagreement”.

This is not the phrase “We are going to agree to disagree.” Who really wants to do that anyway, right? That’s potentially divisive.

That’s like me saying to those icy trees, “You know, you are so cold. You make me so uncomfortable. Now, Trees, you can see my point, right? I know you won’t change. And I dislike that about you right now. And I just don’t see either one of us changing.” Those trees will never see it. Because the more I push those trees on what I think is right and feel is right for me, the more those trees (or you, or my colleague, my friend, etc.) will pull away. And I’m not into division. (BTW: I’m not really into labeling either.)

So, how does this autumn-Eighties-girl come to terms with the snow-boarder-Nineties guy, or the 2017-texting-aficionado? I am learning to how to speak: in the love of my own worthiness, in the love of your worthiness, and in the honoring of both of our truths. In fact, if we ride out this storm long enough (as the snow continues to fall this winter morning). Guess what will happen? Spring. Spring will happen. The season of re-birth. This is not avoidance, however. This is the “revisiting” of our contrast, with my 2017-texting-aficionados until we both find a “3” on our 1 -5 scale. Balance.

So, in times of political, seasonal, and personal unrest, let’s have “Healthy Disagreements” by learning how to speak our truth: with honor and love of our own and our fellow-person’s (cat’s, dog’s, tree’s, ocean’s) worthiness.

Now, I’m not saying to be walked on (or to walk on) — I’m saying walk in it. Choose your rating: “On a scale of 1 to 5 how does ______ make you feel?” Then, explain why. Speak. Love. Honor. Wait… and see if you can adjust your placement on the scale after you give your fellow-person (no labeling here) a chance to speak, too.

“Techno-turtle”. For years I labeled myself as such. For literally years. And here I am, blogging, Tweeting, and Facebooking (look out Instagram, here I come).

It feels like a “2”. A bit uncomfortable. Scary. Revealing. I don’t know all the ‘rules’. I wonder if what I say is relevant…So, I’m in the spring of this all this “technology-learning”. Who knows, maybe in a year or two, you can text me, while we sit face to face(under a leafy-green summer tree), and we’ll have a laugh about it!

For now, I’ll love you anyway, as I speak my truth. And as you speak yours.

Until next time, appreciate the ice! Spring IS coming!

Blessings and peace,

Pamela Rae



What Julian Edelman and I Share: A Hot Meets Cold Moment

The pool’s steam heads upward. Its heat hits 27 degree cold.  It creates STEAM. This is my view as I sit outside, by this very pool, and write this… It’s wonderful in a way that all New Englanders can appreciate:  like eating ice cream while sitting on a rocky Crag at Nubble Light house on the coast of Maine, or wading in the warm current of ocean water in Falmouth on the Cape. Or watching the Patriots make history as they win the Super Bowl. Moments like these hold a beauty exclusively experienced in the phrase: “What it means to be in New England.”

The New England Patriots. The Super Bowl. Synonymous. Now add: Overtime for the first time in history. And add: sitting by a heated open outdoor pool, in the middle of winter, while my daughter ecstatically swims like an acclimated ocean seal! I am naming these magical moments “When Hot Meets Cold”. Because they come with the territory of loving New England. They come with the territory of the beauty of extreme contrast. These are trophy moments. In our extremes, New Englanders know them.

Now, I’m no sports writer, so I can’t make a lot of commentary on how certain plays at Super Bowl 51 were game changers. But I know the one that is indelibly etched into my brain for eternity: Edelman’s red-gloved catch at 91 yards. That’s a definitive Hot Meets Cold moment! One that may never be recreated in history – yet, can be recreated, in our own personal New-Englander-type moments.

Let me explain:

After a trip to the Ice Castles in Lincoln, NH and an hour of night swimming in 20 degree weather outside last night, My daughter and I were lucky enough to catch the end of the Super Bowl. I was confident we’d missed the best of it – it was late; we’d had a full day already. Meandering back to our room fellow-resort-goers stated, “Oh, don’t turn it on, you’ll be so disappointed.”

But I had this feeling – there was something I did not want to miss: a Hot Meets Cold Moment that produces a resounding steam – a hardy New Englander moment! One, much like a steamy outdoor pool, that can only be experienced when contrasts meet up – much like an outdoor pool that offers a heated swim in the middle of winter. The Patriots seemed to be losing, but they had plenty of time for a comeback. Beauty in Contrasts. Hot Meets Cold. We all wanted it to happen. Something special.

So, last week, I thought it would be fun to drive North and see the man-made towers of lighted ice with my eight year old, then swim outside in a heated pool, amidst icy temperatures, under the crescent moon.  It was a “feeling” I had, that something special would happen if we trekked out to a mini-adventure of contrasts. I wavered though: “Not enough money” “I can’t miss work” and “It’s a long drive”. Wavering thoughts. Again, contrasts. Yet, I did something different. Instead of dropping the idea, I scooped it up and hugged it. I embraced the potential of it. Through sheer will and beauty in contrast, my daughter and I joyfully fulfilled our icy dream adventure.

Now, back to the game:

So, we turn on the Super Bowl: 9 – 28. Patriots losing. But, there was time, though.. and sure enough HOT met COLD when Edelman performed! And, today I have been watching the re-play of it non-stop: It’s a GRAB, a semi-DROP, and a SCOOP and a HUG.  And Edelman’s precision is the kind that matches many of our own game-changing-momentary-little-life-decisions: opportunity arises, circumstance creates a waver, but we grab it and hug it anyway. The making of the moment feels shaky. Hot meets Cold. STEAM.

I think it sort of happens like this: the moment comes; we think we might miss the mark. We say, “Yikes, I might drop it. But I think I have it!” (READ this article to hear Edelman’s account of the moment). And then, the level of the moment’s importance, entices us to give an extra scoop of effort. With the grab comes the HOLD (or the HUG). And that involves resilience. And it’s only a split second from start to finish. But in the middle of the start and the finish that’s the STEAM. It’s the knowing that comes from NOT knowing. It’s the steam that makes the Cold so sweet, and the Hot so delicious. It’s the nano-second right before the final decision – or game changing move. That’s the STEAM.

Now, we all know New Englanders display resilience. We spring back. In several feet of icy snow today and in 60 degrees of sunshine tomorrow, we perform.  The coldest of oceans and the warmest currents can be dipped into in the difference of only minutes. We make history. With Super Bowl overtime, we make history again. We also make history in our own lives in the same way.

Hey, Edelman may be a California native, but he’s got this – and we’ve got this.  It’s called STEAM – When Hot meets Cold. We feel the steam, right before the WIN is coming. And this is what happened in New England last night. And this is what happened in my own life (and Edelman’s life) too. The scoop and hug move are visceral moves: they are seen, and felt. And when we approach life with that same resolve, we create STEAM too.  We individually stand in the same historical value as Edelman and The New England Patriots. Because we also create STEAM.

And while my “steamy” moments aren’t available for replay on the internet,  I replay them in my own mind. They’re my signs of my own impending trophy. Yes,  life’s contrasts can create seconds of doubt — but in the steam, I’m going to say it like Edelman, “I’m pretty sure I caught this”. AND, I’d like to add something, Sir Edelman, if I may: you HUGGED it, too!

…I have come indoors from the chilly poolside. Grace and I have created our own Edelman moment: we grabbed the ball (coming to the ice-castles despite other obligations), we felt shaky at first (memory making time on a weekday). Yet, we found the SCOOP of effort. Despite all steamy doubts. We embraced the moment -we created the HUG.  STEAM of 2 days of memories -this was our Edelman moment.  For Edelman and me, Hot met Cold. Who knew I’d have so much in common with a New England Patriot? But I do… and so do you. Create some STEAM.

Blessings and peace,

Pamela Rae