FIGuring life out – Eye of the beholder…


Photo by Elizabeth Messina

How is it possible for two people in an interaction to have such profoundly different experiences? Do you ever feel like your life is like one of those sitcom episodes that shows the same events from different characters’ perspectives and the humor is in how dramatically different each depiction is?

If truth be told, reality is most likely on some continuum between the two perspectives.  We can decide we are right and can choose conflict and distance…we can cave…or we can find a more balanced perspective that can help us understand and be understood.

The challenge is to find the balance between trusting your own gut and expectations and perspective taking.  We are all skewed by the frame that we bring from our history, personality style, etc. This can be intensified by strong emotions. The act of stepping outside of our own world view and taking someone else’s perspective can feel nearly impossible – but it can go quite a long way in improving the quality of our relationships.

At the end of the day, we really just want to be understood and loved in spite of our flaws. By stepping outside of ourselves and considering the perspective of our partners we give them that gift. This in turn makes it much more likely that they will reciprocate…

50 Favorite Words #7 – Livid


Livid. This is a very important word. I know it may seem like somewhat of an unlikely choice with all of the mindful happiness I routinely share my thoughts about. But I think being able to feel and (appropriately) express legitimate anger is another key to fully self-actualized living—being able to feel our feelings, even the ugly ones.

Maybe it is because I am a woman, and women are often discouraged from expressing their anger. Maybe it is because I am a fan of being fully present in as many moments of my life as possible. Maybe it is because there is something inspiring about caring passionately about something. About being so invested or principled or connected that an injustice can resonate deeply. Feeling livid. Having the intense physical reaction that flushes our faces. There is an aliveness to it. There is power in anger that can lead to positive change.

I am not talking about needing anger management kind of anger. I am not talking about being unkind to others in how we express our strong feelings. I am talking about being connected to our feelings and really feeling them. This type of anger can help us recognize and respond to things that are unacceptable in our world. It can help us realize when a pattern in our life isn’t serving us.  It can help us realize when a relationship we are in is not good for us.  Being livid is your body letting you know something is not right. Feeling it and recognizing it are the instrumental first steps to doing something about it.

Being livid can revitalize, mobilize to action, help us understand what matters to us at our core. Maybe it’s a toxic relationship in your life that you recognize you want to end. Maybe it’s a negative self voice that keeps you down that you will no longer tolerate. Maybe it’s a broader injustice and you want to do your part to change it. Your emotional reaction doesn’t have to translate to you expressing your anger at someone. It can instead run through you as fuel to empower you to take the steps you want to take. Steps to change your world or the big world around you.

What matters enough to you that you would be willing to let your blood boil a little? What if you were allowed to feel your anger (go into a wind tunnel and scream)? How would you use this fuel to make changes in your own life?  How would you use it to change the world?

FIGuring Life Out – A roadmap for happiness and well being: Part 5 – Accomplishment

As a reminder, my first project with Fig & Birch, was outlining a pathway to Flourish. This post is the last piece. As we wrap up the focus on Seligman’s pathway to well being, I want to do a quick review of the PERMA model:

P=Positive Affect





The final component to well being is accomplishment. Striving to make ourselves better in some way. Mastering a skill…Achieving a goal…And, taking the time to acknowledge what we have achieved. This can contribute to our ability to flourish. Not in a blinding ambition sort of way, but in an I accomplished something that mattered to me sort of way. The steps to accomplishment can be broken down:

1. Ask yourself “What if?” Identify a meaningful dream for yourself. Conjure a vision, one that energizes you and you know you can stick with.

2. Crystalize your dream into a specific set of goals.

3. Identify the first small step to achieve the first goal. Take the first step and follow-through, even if pieces of it are tedious or hard for you.

4. Lather, rinse, repeat…As you achieve each small step you identify for yourself, you will feel better and stronger and will then be fueled by your own success. You will build on this new foundation and step-by-step make your vision a reality.

5. Allow yourself to take your success in. Feel pride in your accomplishment. Feel gratitude for those who helped make it so.

I have, for many years, had the dream of writing a book. But I felt (and sometimes still feel) quite shy about it. In order to actualize this dream, I decided to start with the goal of building a blog that more than 3 people who aren’t related to me read. The fact that I have launched Fig & Birch, that slowly but surely I am building a base of readers, and that additional collaborative writing opportunities are growing from this project feels like a huge accomplishment.

I must pause to express gratitude for my sister, Elizabeth Messina, who helped me create my vision, generously allows me to use her images and is personally responsible for almost all of the exposure I have gotten; my partner who consistently believes in me; my sweet mom who takes the time to proof read all of my posts before they go live; and you for taking the time to read this vulnerable creation of mine.

What is your DREAM? What will give you a sense of Accomplishment and contribute to your ability to flourish?



50 Favorite Words – #6 Alchemy

Sometimes it’s not fun having kids – they fight and are rude and I daydream that I am in a Calgon commercial.  Sometimes it’s kind of magical.  One of my favorite memories ever is the Christmas of 2013.  It was the first holiday since my divorce that I had my three kids all to myself. I had a little one bedroom apartment and we didn’t have our furniture yet, I just had an air mattress in the living room. The four of us lounged around on the air mattress and watched every holiday movie you can think of (Christmas in Connecticut is my personal favorite).  We even had our Christmas dinner picnic style.  It was lovely, and connected and wonderful.  Why did it come together this way? I have no idea.  It could have just has easily been miserable: cramped in a small space with lots of complaining and fighting and crankiness.

But it wasn’t miserable, it was wonderful…


Photo by Elizabeth Messina

I attribute it to Alchemy. Those special, extraordinary moments when things just click and are right. It’s easy—an instant connection with friends, a romantic partner, or family.  It’s infectious laughter that makes your face hurt and later you don’t remember what was so funny. I don’t know why it happens. But I know that when it does it has a bit of magic to it – and it is advisable to free fall into the moment lest it pass you by.