Pam Victor: “Be in Nature”

“Be in Nature” is a Happiness Habit that promotes lots of physical benefits, such as reducing the risk of heart disease and lowering blood pressure and cortisol levels. If being in nature isn’t, well, second nature to you, here are three really simple but effective habits that will help you reap the health benefits of […]

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“Be in Nature” is a Happiness Habit that promotes lots of physical benefits, such as reducing the risk of heart disease and lowering blood pressure and cortisol levels. If being in nature isn’t, well, second nature to you, here are three really simple but effective habits that will help you reap the health benefits of spending time in nature:


Often when we refer to wellness, we assume that we are talking about physical wellbeing. But one can be physically very healthy but still be unwell, emotionally or mentally. What are the steps we can take to cultivate optimal wellness in all areas of our life; to develop Mental, Physical, Emotional, & Spiritual Wellbeing?

As a part of our series about “How We Can Do To Cultivate Our Mental, Physical, Emotional, & Spiritual Wellbeing”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Pam Victor.

Pam Victor is a professional improviser, corporate facilitator, happiness coach, author, teacher, and the Head of Happiness (aka founder and president) of Happier Valley Comedy, the first and only improv theater in Western Massachusetts. In service to Happier Valley Comedy’s mission to bring more laughter, joy, and ease to the world, Pam directs the three branches of the company: the comedy training center, the weekly shows, and the Learning THROUGH LAUGHTER program for professional and personal development, which uses improv training exercises to build foundational skills, such as communication, collaboration, and creativity … and happiness! As the Head of Happiness of Happier Valley Comedy, happiness is literally Pam Victor’s title and business. It’s also her life practice as she shares these powerful tools for building resilience, joy, and well-being in her exclusively online interactive events in “The 30-Day Happiness Experiment” program.

Pam is a recipient of the 2019 New England Public Radio Arts & Humanities Award and a TEDx speaker. She is the author of “Baj and the Word Launcher: A Space-Aged Asperger Adventure in Communication” a children’s book that uses sci-fi to teach social and communication skills. Along with legendary improvisers TJ Jagodowski and Dave Pasquesi, Pam is the co-author of “Improvisation at the Speed of Life: The TJ & Dave Book.” A graduate of Smith College with a Master’s in Education from Iona College, Pam has received improv training from iO Theater (Chicago), Annoyance Theatre (Chicago), ImprovBoston, and from Second City teachers. Pam is a nice person. She likes you already.


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

I moved around a lot as a child, and I went to different schools in different towns, and sometimes states and countries, every year from ages 12 to 19. That experience made me more skilled in being socially flexible and more grounded in my authentic identity. Because I didn’t have a consistent social network to rely on, I also learned that I am ultimately responsible for creating my own internal joy and ease.

What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.

In 2012, I started the “Can I Make a Living Doing What I Love?’ Experiment” where I gave myself one year to make a living in Western Massachusetts exclusively through improv comedy. Before that, I had spent ten years as a stay-at-home, homeschooling mom. When my child went to college, I knew I had to return to the workforce. By that point, I was deeply obsessed with improv, so I gave myself that one year to see if improv comedy was a viable job for me in small town America.

During that Experiment, I left no stone unturned. I was constantly in a headspace of what improvisers refer to as “Yes, and…” which means being in a state of open acceptance without letting fear (of failure, the unknown, etc.) get in the way of joyful forward momentum. I started by teaching one six-week improv class. When my students asked me to teach another improv session — even though I thought I had taught them everything I knew! — I said, “Yes, and…what else do you think it would be fun to learn about improv?” This practice eventually lead to the creation of The Joy & Ease of Improv, my original multi-level improv curriculum.

During that year, I was asked to deliver a keynote and facilitate professional development workshops, I said “Yes, and…” even though I had never done either before. That leap into the unknown lead to the creation of my company’s Learning THROUGH LAUGHTER program for professional development.

Tina Fey says, “Jump. And then figure it out on the way down,” which is what she learned in her improv training in Chicago from Del Close. The entire “‘Can I Make a Living Doing What I Love?’ Experiment” was continually jumping into the unknown and trusting that I’d figure it out. (Spoiler: I did!)

Through it all, my inspiration continues to be my passion for improvisation and my commitment to my personal purpose to facilitate joy, connection, and growth. Much to my great luck, both improvisation and living my purpose provide a blueprint for how to traverse through the unknown with more positivity, ease, and joyful connection.

None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?

TJ Jagodowski and David Pasquesi, of the celebrated improv duo “TJ & Dave, certainly facilitated my success when they said yes to my proposition to co-author a book about their approach to improvisation. The first time I saw them perform, it was like I audibly heard a big ol’ “squeaaaaak” of the bar being raised for what improvisational comedy was capable of. Rather than going for yucks and silly jokes, TJ and Dave’s approach to improv is extremely mindful, present, honest, and authentic. Over the course of writing their book with them, my job was to sit in their minds and see improvisation through their eyes and hearts. Their view of improvisation transformed my understanding of the breadth and depth of this artform.

In some ways, they also helped me achieve my success with a lack of encouragement. While writing the book with them, I kept feeling more and more energized by the applications of the tenets of improvisation for leading a more joyful and authentic life. When I urged them to include more about how improv applies to life, TJ said, “That doesn’t belong in our book. You should include that in your own book, Pam.”

It took me years of teaching improv to metabolize the way they approach improvisation through my own lens and integrate it into my own authentic voice and message for the world. And now, thanks to TJ and Dave saying yes to some of my offers and no to others, I’m currently making a living in improvisation and writing my own book about how improv can transform your life!

Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?

I teach that “it’s only a mistake if you don’t learn from it,” so this question is right in my wheelhouse! The most interesting “mistake” in my career has been a student who I call “My Most Difficult Student Ever.” She joined the second class I ever taught, so I was a very green improv teacher, still trying to figure out my authentic approach to improv, when she came along. This student stomped into the second class of the session literally yelling, “I hated the first class, but I’m back anyway because I refuse to quit!” When I asked her what she hated about it — after I picked my stomach off the floor — she said that she felt like she was extremely bad at improv. I was flummoxed because that was not at all how I viewed her work in class. She was learning improv. Plus, if anyone is “good” at something after one class, they probably don’t belong in that class. In my personal decades of experience as an improviser, I’ve become skilled at improvisation only through many, many, MANY “bad” shows! If those so-called bad shows made me a better improviser, were they really bad? The challenge was helping My Most Difficult Student Ever see it that way.

I could see that her inner critic was running the show…and in many ways, it was running — and ruining — our class because she was, let’s just say, extremely vocal about how much she hated the class. In trying to help her experience more joy and ease in the process of learning improv comedy, I developed a whole lessons around quieting the inner critic and following the path of pure creativity, joy, and ease.

I’d love to say that she was transformed over the course of that class, but that certainly wasn’t the case. On the last day of class, she took time out of our play time to apologize to everyone for being “so bad at improv.” My heart sank. I may have failed in getting her to view improv through the lens of acceptance and joy in the learning journey, rather than as something that you’re either “good” or“bad” at. However, I am so grateful for My Most Difficult Student Ever because she transformed my approach to teaching improv both for performance and as a vehicle for personal and professional growth. In fact, this experience lead to the creation of my original approach to improv, The Joy & Ease of Improv. Thanks to her, I developed effective techniques for quieting the inner critic, which ended up being the topic of my TEDx talk and is at the heart of every single lesson I teach.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

My all-time favorite book is Ruth Krauss’ “The Carrot Seed,” a simple children’s picture book about perseverance, doing the work, and believing in yourself. In short, a little boy planted a carrot seed. Everyone in his family told him it wouldn’t come up, but he kept tending to the seed. Until, one day, “a carrot came up, just as the little boy had known it would.”

It didn’t know anyone who was working full-time in a thriving improv business in a small town. Many people, in fact, said it wasn’t possible. My “carrot seed” grew into a successful nonprofit company called Happier Valley comedy.

“The Carrot Seed” continues to resonate with me during the pandemic. Happier Valley Comedy’s physical theater space probably will be closed for over a year. It seems impossible to translate what I do into an online format. But like the little boy in “The Carrot Seed,” I have been “acting as if” it will all work out. I continue to tend to the business and do the work every day with faith that eventually it will all work out.

Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?

“Maybe” is a quote that influences how I move through life. It comes from “The Story of the Maybe Farmer,“ a very old Chinese Daoist parable. “Maybe” helps me remember not to buy into the stories my internal messengers of unhelpful judgment and fear tell me about a given situation. Those unhelpful internal messengers like to label events as “very good” or, more often, “very bad.” But “maybe” reminds me that we don’t know how the story is going to turn out. “Maybe” is the middle path and moving forward with nonjudgment. How many times has something that you thought was a terrible failure ended up being a terrific gift in your life? “Maybe” reminds me that in the moment we don’t know if something is ultimately “good” or “bad.” “Maybe” helps me to accept the reality of the situation in order to move forward with joy and ease.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?

The pandemic was a total “Maybe Farmer moment” for my business. On March 13th, we had to close the theater, losing pretty much every stream of revenue in one moment. That’s seemed very “bad” at the time! Improvisation is a very in-person practice, and there’s not a lot about what I do that translates well to Zoom. However, I held onto the “maybe” and continued to pursue my mission to facilitate joy, connection, and growth.

Among other things, that lead to the development and implementation of a new, exclusively online branch of the company called “The 30-Day Happiness Experiment” which provides simple yet profound “Happiness Habits” to build more resilience, joy, connection, and self-care through short daily practices. The exciting thing is that this program is the first scalable project I’ve ever created. As opposed to my previous work, I can run The 30-Day Happiness Experiment programs with hundreds of people from all over the world! It’s such a great honor to be able to continue to live my purpose, which is to facilitate joy, connection, and growth, even during this challenging time.

By the way, the practices I’m suggesting here all are “Happiness Habits” in my resilience and self-care programs.

OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. In this interview series we’d like to discuss cultivating wellness habits in four areas of our lives, Mental wellness, Physical wellness, Emotional wellness, & Spiritual wellness. Let’s dive deeper into these together. Based on your research or experience, can you share with our readers three good habits that can lead to optimum mental wellness? Please share a story or example for each.

If you want a daily practice that can bring the most bang for your buck, look no further than gratitude. A daily gratitude habit could be incredibly simple: Before your feet hit the floor in the morning, think of 1–3 things you’re grateful for. Boom! You’ve started off the day with positivity, and because humans are natural pattern-makers, a gratitude practice trains the brain to look for the positive which has all sorts of mental and physical wellness benefits, such as less anxiety and depression, better coping strategies, and the tendency to make healthier choices.

Your daily gratitude practice can be deepened by writing a paragraph about each thing you’re grateful for. I’m talking about writing for about ten minutes each day. Studies suggest that a gratitude practice has more profound and lasting mental wellness results when we switch up what we’re grateful for, so it’s not the same list every single day, and we write about it with some detail.

When we’re in a rough patch, another gratitude habit that works wonders is what I call Emergency Gratitude Fingers. The practice is to quickly list off on our fingers ten things we’re grateful for. It’s important not to judge our gratitude. Just list them off as they occur to us. Those days that I’m feeling like there’s nothing to be grateful for are the days when it’s most important to do Emergency Gratitude Fingers. There’s always something to be grateful for, even if it’s “small” stuff like being able to blink, warm socks, or the sun shining.

Another of my Happiness Habits that’s related to a gratitude practice is Positivity Blueberries, which is what I call the practice of mindfully noticing the positives in life. You know when you go blueberry picking, and at first it might seem like all the good blueberries have been picked? But then you see one blueberry…and another…and another. And the bush that seemed empty before now appears to be full of blueberries. I believe it’s the same with positivity. If we look for positivity in life, we will find it. (Likewise, if we look for crappy stuff, we’ll find lots of that too!) In The 30-Day Happiness Experiment, Positivity Blueberries is the habit of noticing three positive things that happened each day. We can write them down as a simple bullet-pointed list at the end of the day. A nice side effect of Positivity Blueberries is that you might notice some patterns of positivity in your life, which helps to more fully appreciate and be present when those moments come up.

All of the Happiness Habits in my program help us practice mindfully focusing on the positive. It doesn’t mean to avoid or ignore the challenges and unhappy times in life. But humans are built with a natural negativity bias, so the act of giving those positivity muscles a conscious, daily workout can provide some balance that will bolster mental wellness.

Do you have a specific type of meditation practice or Yoga practice that you have found helpful? We’d love to hear about it.

I’m an extrovert, and the idea of sitting silently alone on a mat to pay attention to my thoughts seemed like a mild form of torture to me! But because meditation has so many health benefits, I meditated every day as a month-long experiment. I figured that if I hated it, I could at least have some data to inform my choice not to meditate! That experiment was a few years and hundreds of hours of meditation ago. I’ve meditated every day since them. Guess I can’t say it doesn’t work for me…

Thanks to an app called “Insight Timer,” which provides thousands of free meditations from excellent teachers, I can meditate without feeling alone and unguided. I choose the meditation that best fits that day. So if I don’t have much time, I can easily find a quick and effective two minute meditation. If I’m feeling down, I can find a meditation that invites light and joy. If I can’t fall asleep, there are many wonderful meditations on Insight Timer that are super effective!

The one meditation that has been truly transformative is Tara Brach’s RAIN, which is a simple and quick process of working through challenging emotions. RAIN is an acronym for Recognize, Accept, Investigate, and Nurture. One morning recently, I woke up feeling tied into knots about a difficult interaction I had had with someone I love. I felt so crummy and stuck. But after going through Tara Brach’s 10-minute RAIN meditation, I was able to metabolize the experience and let it go … so much so that when I was trying to relay the story to some students later that afternoon, I couldn’t even remember the situation that had so bothered me!

Thank you for that. Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum physical wellness? Please share a story or example for each.

“Be in Nature” is a Happiness Habit that promotes lots of physical benefits, such as reducing the risk of heart disease and lowering blood pressure and cortisol levels. If being in nature isn’t, well, second nature to you, here are three really simple but effective habits that will help you reap the health benefits of spending time in nature:

Sit Spot — Sit in the same spot each day for 5–10 minutes each day for one month. No phones allowed. Just sit. Sketch what you see, if that brings you joy. Notice what you see and how it changes each day. Add in some mindful breathing, and you’ve got an open-eyed, soul-cleansing meditation.

Take a Walk — Now you’re adding in some exercise, so you’re doubling the benefits of being in nature. If you have a dog, now you’re also crossing off a daily chore. Enlist a human walking buddy to go on your daily walk, and — bam! — you’ve added the health benefits of connection. Find five things to be grateful for on every walk, and now you have all the yummy advantages of a gratitude practice. Who knew that taking a walk in nature came with so many Happiness Habits? (My doctor might have known, now that I think about it…)

Color Walk — See if you can find every color of the rainbow on your time in nature. A red leaf, an orange sun, a yellow streak of light, blue sky, green grass, indigo mushroom. A Color Walk is a natural treasure hunt. Plus taking a Color Walk builds the benefits of mindfulness, presence, and intention into your time in nature.

Treasure Hunt — Speaking of treasure hunts, did you know there are actual hidden treasures all around us? I bet you’ve walked right by one without knowing it! I’m talking about a hobby called Letterboxing, which makes spending time in nature fly by. All you need are the directions, a small notepad, a stamp … and internet access: I did a quick search and found the clues for over 100 Letterboxes within 10 miles of my house! This Atlas Quest Letterboxing Community website is all you need to get started.

Do you have any particular thoughts about healthy eating? We all know that it’s important to eat more vegetables, eat less sugar, etc. But while we know it intellectually, it’s often difficult to put it into practice and make it a part of our daily habits. In your opinion what are the main blockages that prevent us from taking the information that we all know, and integrating it into our lives?

Techniques of quieting the internal messengers of unhelpful judgment and fear also are effective in side-stepping the blockages that prevent us from integrating healthy eating habits into our regular lives. When it comes to healthy eating, so often it’s those internal messengers, which I call the Choir of Unhelpful Judges, that lead us astray with untrue stories like, “I don’t have time for a proper meal” and “If one slice of pie is good, two slices are better.” Developing mindfulness about the untrue stories these unhelpful internal messengers tell us helps us make more conscious food choices that better align with our values and aspirations.

Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum emotional wellness? Please share a story or example for each.

“Notice the World Around You” is a Happiness Habit designed to support emotional wellness. It’s the simple practice of taking time each day to mindfully notice what we see, hear, smell, taste, and feel physically and emotionally. “Notice the World Around You” is a muscle that can be strengthened through regular use, which can be as easy as setting a timer at the same time each day to remind us to take one minute to be present to the world around us. What do you see? What do you hear? What do you smell? What do you taste? What do you feel physically? What do you feel emotionally? The practice is to notice rather than get caught up in the “story” behind the sensation. For example, if I notice my back is sore, the story I might get caught up in is that I’m getting old and my body is falling apart and there might never come a pain-free day again. That’s all story. I don’t know if it’s true or untrue, but I do know it’s not helpful for my emotional wellness. The practice of mindfully noticing without judgment — Oh, my back is sore. I feel clenching between my shoulder blades. I wonder what I will feel next? — strengthens my ability to be present to the changing nature of sensation.

The daily practice of “Notice the World Around You” also is very helpful with an anxiety. Often anxiety is when we get caught up in those unproven, fear-based stories we tell about the future or the past. For example, I have social anxiety, and I often feel that everyone hates me when I’m at a party. That’s the unproven (and untrue) story that my internal messengers of unhelpful judgment tell me. Taking a couple minutes to Notice the World with nonjudgmental acceptance provides some counter-programming to that “Choir of Unhelpful Judges.” It brings me into the present reality rather than getting caught up in what I fear is happening or even what I wish were happening instead.

Another daily practice to strengthen the “Notice the World Around You” habit is to take a mindfulness walk. Every day when I walk the dog, I try to notice 10 new things. I take that same walk at least once each day, and it’s amazing how many new things I can notice each time. The “Notice the World Around You” habit takes us out of our heads and into the present moment, which brings all sorts of wonderful benefits to emotional wellness.

Do you have any particular thoughts about the power of smiling to improve emotional wellness? We’d love to hear it.

Victor Borge said, “Laughter is the shortest distance between two people.” And laughter is just a smile out loud, right? I believe that smiling and laughter are so effective at improving emotional wellness because they serve as invisible conduits connecting us to each other. And human connection is an incredibly powerful tool for emotional wellness!

As an improv comedian, I think it’s a great honor to get someone to laugh. It means I made someone so happy that they made involuntary happy noises out of their face! Sharing that moment of audible positivity stimulates all those yummy chemicals that support emotional wellness, both in the laughter and in me. But most of all, it feels so good to share smiles and laughter!

Finally, can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum spiritual wellness? Please share a story or example for each.

As a professional improv comedian, I experience the act of performing improvisation to be a spiritual practice. I define improvisation as “the acceptance of the reality of the moment and the agreement to move forward together with positivity.” This process is my spiritual practice. Go out and take an improv class, and you might discover that with some practice, you can get into this state of effortless mindful connection with others. Improvisers call it “groupmind.” Plus, it’s fun!

“Explore Your Values and Purpose” is one of my Happiness Habits that can lead to optimum spiritual wellness. In The 30-Day Happiness Experiment, I ask people to spend about 10 minutes every day exploring their personal values and purpose in life, whether it’s reading a book, listening to a podcast, going through an online course, or watching a TED talk on the topic. Research supports that living in our purpose positively influences health and longevity. Knowing our purpose and values also helps us feel clearer and more confident about life decisions. The ability to live in tune with why we were put on this planet is the ultimate spiritual practice!

There is a gifted teacher named MaryBeth Hyland whose values-based work has been transformative in my life. Thanks to her course on Insight Timer, I discovered that my life’s purpose is to “facilitate joy, connection, and growth.” This purpose makes my spirit glow and grow, and it also helps clarify times when I’m not following my healthiest spiritual path.

Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

Improv! The movement I believe could bring more goodness to the world would be The Joy & Ease of Improv curriculum. I believe everyone can improvise because the practice is one of quieting the internal messengers of fear and self-judgment, accepting the current reality, and agreeing to move forward collaboratively with positivity. In improv, I don’t teach people how to be funny. Instead, I teach them how to be themselves and trust that’s enough. Improvisation is a practice of collaborative mindfulness, connection, authenticity, and joy. I think the world would benefit from more improv classes!

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂

Brené Brown! Her work on vulnerability and whole-hearted living is very much in keeping with my approach to using improv comedy as a conduit to support more joy, connection, and growth. I would love to show her how effective improv comedy, as an act of joyful collaborative play, can be to dealing with vulnerability and shame and living more authentically and whole-heartedly. If she’s like most people, I’m sure her own inner critic would have her believe that she “can’t improvise.” I would be so honored to prove Brené Brown wrong about that one belief.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

All my programs live at www.happiervalley.com.

The Learning THROUGH LAUGHTER remote professional development is here: https://www.happiervalley.com/virtual-through-laughter.html

The 30-Day Happiness Experiment resilience and self-care programs are here.

https://www.happiervalley.com/happiness_tips.html

Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.

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