Web Camel Transport 43

Yes Happiness

Wednesday March 15, 2017

“yes is a world     and in this world     skillfully curled    live all worlds.” ee cummings

A favorite little phrase, and packed with meaning, cummings’ stanza expresses the stamina of yeses to open doors of possibility.  When we say “yes” to meetings, adventures, trying our hands or our minds at something that scares us, then wondrous vistas and opportunities as well as creative expression await our arrival through those doors of YES.

When we say “yes” to something that might thrill us but also produce anxiety, we will have gone through an emotional maze of reasons why we might want to avoid such a challenge, or bar ourselves from the attendant risks involved.  But finally, perhaps with trepidation taking the backseat to curiosity or ambition, we take the leap of faith.  We say, “yes!”  Most great human ventures come with risk.  The oft stirred cold feet of betrotheds, standing at the threshold of their marital life together, as an example.  Or the wary investor about to press “buy” on these promising mutual funds.  Or, the shy actor auditioning for his largest role yet.  Or the quiet employee seeking fairer compensation for her diligence and brilliance.  Or the person scared of heights facing the rock wall finally.

When we have wrestled with all of the “no’s,” and “yes” has claimed the victory, then we decided on “yes.”  We align ourselves with “yes,” and that “yes” represents our best self, pushing the envelopes in which we have wrapped our dreams and aspirations, our hopes and our curiosity.  This is a decidedly different kind of “yes” than the yes of our people-pleasing selves.

Some yeses, when they issue from a place of people-pleasing, happen on autopilot, reflexively, reactively.  They have nothing in common with victorious yeses which are proactive, and often hard won.  To have a good “yes,” one must have a good “no.”  If “yes” exists as the only one of those two words in our vocabulary, then yeses, habitual yeses, can take over our lives and dominate our efforts and how we spend our time.

Except in rare circumstances, even if you are one of those people for whom serving others constitutes your main purpose, no one needs to service others at the expense of oneself.  When serving others—saying “yes” to others—on a routine basis means depleting your personal resources of time, energy, emotional and physical well being, then saying “yes” has turned into a bad habit.  The consequent and inevitable anger, resentment, and feelings of deprivation that yes-people experience illustrate a misalignment in relating to oneself.  If you find yourself too busy, too fatigued, too stressed, or too harried or overworked to do everything you need for your self-care and well being then your life raft looks like NO!!!  “No” to others when “yes” to yourself has a dignified place in your embrace.

One young woman, Sally, said she felt angry at herself for being such a people pleaser who put herself last.  “I’m not cheap about spending money on others for gifts when I want to show them my love and appreciation.  But I find every excuse not to buy something for myself.”

She had recently started a boot camp class and needed exercise clothing.  Yet, “I made every excuse for why I should save the money instead.”  Sally had a talent for evaluating the benefits of purchases and I certainly didn’t want to discourage such useful reflections.  But at the same time, she acknowledged that she placed great value on her health.  Appropriate exercise clothing was part and parcel of accomplishing that goal rather than a frivolous purchase.

Often, virgins at giving a “no” to others, require a concrete reason to say “yes” to themselves.  It is far easier to protect one’s time, energy and quality of life if you have something you really want to do, like Sally’s wanting to take the exercise class.  Another client, who thanklessly, both at work and with her elderly parents, spent all of her time and energy, found it nearly impossible to set any boundaries on her altruistic output until she wanted to take a class in psychology, something she had wanted to study for years.  Between class attendance, studying, and homework, she finally found herself capable of guarding her own resources of time, energy, and emotional output.  She had a reason to say “no” to others.

But shouldn’t our rest, our peace of mind, our freedom to be spontaneous or to relax be reasons enough?  It may take some time to work up to embracing those more abstract notions of wellbeing.  But people-pleasers have to start somewhere, and it often begins with simply slowing down the automatic process of saying “yes,” and instead, going through a decision making process.

Because Sally had the ability to think through the issue of the exercising clothing, she saw that this purchase would manifest an investment in her health. She felt able to tolerate the discomfort of making these purchases for herself. Sally and I discussed the often misunderstood notion of selfishness among people-pleasers.  People-pleasers tend to associate anything they want or do for themselves as selfish.

In my view truly selfish people almost always put themselves first, even going so far as to discount or diminish the needs and wants of loved ones as well as failing to consider whether or not higher order principles or values might prevail.  Extremely selfish people have taught themselves not to care too much about the impact of their selfishness on others.  Sometimes, in the background of such a person, deprivation—of love, of attention, of care, of things—shaped experience, and the prevailing narrative of the world took on a dog-eat-dog theme.

Some selfish people function like battering rams.  Battering rams prove difficult to deal with, particularly for people pleasers who, eventually, might find themselves at the very limits of their envelopes to keep saying “yes” to a person who constantly exploits their kindness and generosity.  Even people with the ability to say “yes” and “no” find battering rams difficult, since the need to constantly apply boundaries gets inconvenient if not exhausting after a while.  People who, sadly, ask too much of others, eventually find doors closing in their faces, subjecting them to feelings of rejection and abandonment, without realizing how they have co-created the problem.

Taking a healthy and buoyant interest in oneself I call self-interest.  I encouraged Sally, and encourage those like her in that respect, to revel in healthy self-interest.  To be interesting to oneself in all of one’s possible expressions exercises one’s fullest capacity to live wholly and well. Sometimes it proves difficult to balance one’s self-interest with caring about the interests of others, but keeping that question alive fosters emotional freedom and decision-making capacity.

Someone who shares and also listens well, who gives to others but receives from others with enjoyment and appreciation, who gladly does service to and for others but does not shy away from asking for favors on occasion, models sterling emotional freedom.

Compassion fatigue is the professional equivalent of what many people experience on a daily or weekly basis in their personal lives—an overextension of one’s servicing of others’ needs and wants to the detriment of oneself.  Sequelae often include feeling drained, exhausted, wiped out, resentful, exploited, trapped and frustrated.

To deeply want what one wants, but to be able to take into consideration the impact of those wants on others and on the planet, and to make decisions on the basis of that, as well as on one’s highest principles, results in the best possible yeses and the best possible no’s.

Camel Saddle:  Are you a person who tends to say “yes” out of habit?  If you were to think more carefully about your yeses, would you revise any of them?  Or, do you say “no” with an equal lack of careful thought?  How would you like to recalibrate your yeses and no’s to be more fully aligned with the ways you want to show up in your life for yourself and for others?



Web Camel Transport 40

Purposing Happiness in the Old Grist Mill

Saturday, February 4, 2017


Existential questions—what is the meaning of life?  What is my purpose?  What makes me happy?—have generated thousands of exploratory books and papers that sit on the real and cyber shelves of bookstores and academic journals under categories such as Philosophy, Psychology, and Self-help.

A recent conversation with a client, Leandra, got both of us thinking more deeply about ‘purpose.’ How do we find it?  Is it even something to be found?  How do we understand the meaning of purpose in our individual lives?  Is our narrative about what constitutes purposeful pursuits limiting or expanding for us, and is this narrative subject to editing?

Leandra, a highly intelligent, professionally employed woman, found her job rather stultifying.  It paid the bills, allowed her to live in a nice house in a nice community.  It made use of her advanced degree. She could do it well, but without any moments of pizazz. It required a lot of discipline on her part to harness herself to the tasks involved.  Although other activities, outside of work, held interest for her, she complained of an inability to stick with anything.  She tried guitar lessons, dance, pottery, rock climbing.  Initially all seemed to kick start some real enjoyment and engagement, but inevitably she would discontinue.  Without any continuity, she fell into a numbing process of searching for the activity that would finally capture both her imagination as well as her commitment, and compensate for her boredom at work.

For a while I scratched my head.  Why did Leandra short circuit her involvement in any of these avocations which she supposedly liked?  Did she lack discipline or commitment to anything besides work and her family?  Did she simply get bored easily?  Would she continue to peruse the smorgasbord table of life’s offerings until she found something of greater attraction still?

Finally, she pondered what made her lose interest, and came up with the notion that, at some point she would ask herself what use this activity had. If she decided it lacked utility or purpose, other than self-indulgence, then she would lose steam or completely drop the activity.  In our continuing conversations, we considered whether purpose might be less about our evaluation of the status of an activity—as useful or important–and more about how we engage ourselves in whatever we do.

If one’s purpose isn’t found in the smorgasbord of life’s offerings, but in how fully we offer ourselves to the work we choose, then purpose involves a personal process of developing our investment, our dedication, and our increasing mastery to something.  That kind of attention illuminates, hones, and connects us more and more meaningfully to that with which we place our hands, minds, and hearts.

The activity itself—its vitality or offering of purposes—exactly mirrors our evaluation of it.  When we are “in the flow,” and fully engaged, then we are investing that action with purpose and meaning.  We become full of the activity and the activity becomes full of us.

The purposing of life expresses us at our most creative.  As Victor Frankl said, “we are meaning making creatures.”  And happiness thrives on such investment; not only our sense of pleasure, but our satisfaction in self-expression, as well as in making a contribution beyond ourselves to others.

Happiness is more of a how than a what; how we live life, as well as love, appreciate and invest ourselves in what we do and those with whom we share our sorrows and our joys. The purposing of happiness happens on the wings of commitment, engagement, exquisite mindset, willingness, openness to experience, and so forth.

In contrast, a bottle cap opener has no inherent purpose—though perhaps the steel’s active electrons “purposefully” move heat and electricity through their dance.  We invest bottle cap openers with utility.  We manufacture them to amplify the hand’s strength (Oh gosh, and the teeth for some brave souls) and better calibrate the angle of leverage.  A bottle cap opener, like any inanimate object, requires human intention and action to make a positive difference in our functioning.

My mother died in September of 2016, just a few months ago, leaving her legacy of optimism with me and my sisters.  Legacy comments, though casual, often sounded like this:  “It may be hard for you right now, but you’ll figure it out,” or “But you’ll keep trying, I know you.” Or, “Can’t you adjust your perspective?”  And often, “Well, make sure to take care of yourself.”

This latter comment has finally sunk in.  The fundamental embodiment of our developing capabilities and intentions requires us to take care of ourselves.  Whether we are purveyors, conduits, channels, transmitters, embracing arms, or fonts of love, knowledge and rides to soccer games, our constitutions require nourishment, sleep, exercise, breathing room, inspiration, and renewal.  This is not just ‘a thing.’ This is the real thing.  We are animate and live on borrowed time.  Our lives are on short loan from the universe so we must spend down our energy and time wisely.

The moment after my mother received her diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, as gently as possible from the young oncologist she would meet only once, she could not remember the term, ‘pancreatic.’  She kept asking us to repeat the name and knew her denial process kept it from her.  Even as she lay bedbound during those last few days of her life she perked up.  “Sometime I want to write an essay on denial.  It’s amazing how I can’t remember the name of this cancer.”  An infinite regression of denials? Or is this purposing happiness, to see her ‘denial’ from an alternate perspective.

When all else failed—to conquer a problem, rectify an injustice, get the guy, get the job, win the award—she’d say, “It’s all grist for the mill.” The ultimate in recycling, upcycling, in turning lemons into lemonade.  The ultimate in purposing happiness. At the last moment, there are still things to ponder, to write, to contribute. Even if we will not be around to finish them.

Rabindranath Tagore (1861 – 1941) wrote, “We live in the world when we love it.”  We are most alive in our world when we love it.  Love is that purposeful energy that renders the grass its greenest green, and makes us call the sounds of a bird ‘music,’ and the laughter of our babies inspirational.  One of my clients, Glyndi, says, “If I know you I love you.”  Love, and purpose, are connectors.  We connect ourselves to our world with love, and invest our devoted attention to the ever-evolving harmony-and-chaos of our lives with purpose.

When we love, we feel open, excited, willing, ready, available, forgiving, insightful, understanding, capable, curious, motivated, courageous, revelatory, cooperative, generous, and connected.

Another voice supporting the notion that purpose is in the “doing” of something rather than the “what” we are doing, Mark Manson (Sept 18 2014 https://markmanson.net/life-purpose), writes movingly about parenting.  Any parent has impact, is an “influencer.”  Here is a quote from his online article:

“Parenting ineluctably demands that one address the greatest, founding philosophical question: What is a good life? As we go about answering it live in our words and actions over long years, we will at least know that we have been spared the one great fear that otherwise haunts us and usually manifests itself around work: that of not being able to make a difference. There will not be the remotest danger of lacking impact, only of unwittingly exerting the wrong kind. We will be the biographers, coaches, teachers, chefs, photographers, masters and slaves of our new charges. Our work will lend us the opportunity to show our worst, but also our best selves in action: it is the particular words we will find, the touch of our hands, the encouraging look only we will be able to give, the swerve towards lenience or the brave defense of principles that will make a decisive difference to the sorrows and joys of another human being. Who we are every day, the specific individuals we will have matured into, will have an unparalleled power to exert a beneficial influence on somebody else’s life. We will – in our role as parents – be terrified, exhausted, resentful, enchanted and forever spared any lingering doubt as to our significance or role on the earth.”

Just like a simple bottle cap opener requires application to activate its purpose, so too do we generate purpose, and the satisfactions of feeling purposeful, from the application of ourselves to whatever we are doing.

Perhaps, those of us who have jobs we love, and do things we love, have an enormous privilege—to feel contributory, even if in a small way, even beyond our own families; to feel engaged fully; to feel lifted and inspired and masterfully in development with what we do. Not everyone has the luxury of pursuing what calls to them, or the opportunities for education and mentorship or encouragement. But when we invest ourselves fully in whatever we are doing we meet ourselves at the places where our strengths, intelligence, and inclinations manifest themselves.  This is where we find direction.  All experiences are grist for the mill, and that purposes happiness.


Camel Saddle:  To what activities do you fully apply yourself?  In what do you get so lost that you are found in your most creative and activated expression, fully alive in the moment?  To what might you pay more attention, in order to generate more purposeful direction?  What thoughts do you spin that hold you back from your loving, attentive and purposeful connections?