seek happiness

Old Ideas About How to Seek Happiness

Written by Megan Bayles Bartley, MAMFT, LMFT

“If there are things that are causing you to suffer, you have to know how to let go of them.”

~Thich Nhat Hanh

As many of you know, I love the theme of letting go. Sometimes we hold on a little too tightly to expectations we have for ourselves or thoughts of what we “think” we need to be happy, fulfilled and successful. Old habits die hard and it can be difficult to let go of an idea that you have about yourself or your life that no longer rings true.

For example, I was doing a values assessment recently and the things I thought would come up, like creativity and curiosity, these really core ideals I connect my sense of identity to, didn’t. What surfaced were things I already have in my life, that not everybody has. Things like freedom, safety, and security.

And it reminded me that, while as a culture we are always striving for more, perhaps during this time of uncertainty, we should seek happiness from what we already have. To make time to be grateful for what is right in front of us in this moment. Things that many of us take for granted everyday, like freedom, safety and security can bring us so much peace if we allow them to.

So often we wait for happiness.

We tell ourselves that we’ll be happy when “x” happens. We’ll relax when we reach a certain goal, or breathe a sigh of relief as we accomplish a milestone in life, but the truth is, we have everything we need to be happy and at peace right here in this moment, if only for a moment.

So, repeat after me:

“I have everything I need.” 

In times of doubt, stress, you name it, this is a mantra that has brought me calmness, reassurance and gratitude.

I hope it does the same for you.

the art of living

The Art of Living

Written by Megan Bayles Bartley, MAMFT, LMFT

“All the art of living lies in the fine mingling of letting go and holding on.” -Havelock Ellis

All relationships have a tension or delicate balance between aspects that we like and dislike or things that work well and are a challenge.

So too, do we tend to have multiple feelings or emotions of an event, say, the loss of a loved one. We are sad they are gone, yet relieved they are no longer suffering.

This plays into my “yes, and” philosophy of living life, that I gleamed from my days of improv comedy.

Yes, I love you, And sometimes I find you difficult to be around. 

When we limit ourselves to dichotomous thinking, we miss the Rainbow of Options. Getting stuck in black/white, right/wrong, good/bad thinking sets us and others up for failure rather than success.

If we choose “right” then others are “wrong.” When our “right” doesn’t work out, we feel like we have failed.

If instead we look at the whole rainbow of options we could choose, we are limitless.

95% of the options may be things you would never actually do, but at least they are there for you if you need them.

This Rainbow of Options gives you more flexibility rather than keeping you rigid and binary. Much of mental illness can be due to rigidity while mental well-being can lie in the ability for have flexibility of thinking.

Think: Growth Mindset vs. Fixed Mindset!

ground yourself

How to Physically Ground Yourself In the Present Moment

Anyone else DONE?! Over it? Fried? Frazzled?! We sure are! The holidays have come and are almost gone, leaving many of us reeling from too much “stuff,” too many “people,” and too many “things” to do. This is especially true if you are a Highly Sensitive Person or an Empath…

How can we best take care of ourselves when we’re in this space?

Perhaps getting grounded and centered in the present moment!

Here are a few physical activities we can do to direct our mind back to the here and now:

1. Savor a food or drink

While most of us rush through our meals to get back to a task or event, try to savor your next bite to eat. You can do this by taking small bites or sips. Pretend you are trying your food or beverage for the first time, letting yourself fully taste every flavor. Think about the temperature, texture, smell, and presentation of your food as well.

2. Take a short walk

What do you see? Focus on the texture, movement, and color of each item. Challenge yourself to think of specific colors, such as crimson, burgundy, indigo, or turquoise, instead of simply red or blue. How fast is that squirrel darting from the tree? Can you see your reflection in the puddle of water on the sidewalk? Are the trees bare or still full of leaves, do they move with the wind or simply stay still?

3. Hold a Piece of Ice

What does it feel like at first? How long does it take to start melting? How does the sensation change when the ice begins to melt?

4. Savor a Scent?

What are some of your favorite smells? Maybe you enjoy the wafts of a baked good rising in the oven, coffee brewing, onion or garlic cooking on the stove, laundry fresh from the dryer, or a candle. Whatever it is, inhale the fragrance slowly and deeply.  What are its qualities?

5. Listen to your surroundings

Take a few moments to listen to the noises around you. Do you hear birds? Dogs barking? The hum of your computer, or the dryer running? If you hear people talking, what are they saying? Put on some music. Let the sounds wash over you and remind you where you are.

6. Try the 5-4-3-2-1 method

You can rely on your 5 senses to bring you back to reality anytime you are starting to “spin out.” Counting backward from 5, use your senses to list the things you notice around you. 5 things you hear, four things you see, three things you can touch nearby, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste.

Make an effort to notice the little things you might not always pay attention to, and remember which of them brings you joy. Then you can incorporate these little rituals into your day to help keep you centered.

choose happiness

Choose Happiness

Written by Megan Bayles Bartley, MAMFT, LMFT

It’s not always easy or even possible to “choose happiness.”

With that said, when you surround yourself with people, environments, activities, and animals that you love it helps “lighten” your mood and “lift your spirits” so happiness doesn’t feel so far away.

Lately, I’m finding that that bringing Lemon Drop into the office seems to be just what people need to brighten their days. For me, his presence helps me get out of my own head and remember the carefree life of a dog.

After all, if you pay close attention, your dog will share with you the most important things in life: a good meal, playfulness, rest, curiosity, companionship, and the wonders of the great outdoors. When all else fails, taking the time to slow down and enjoy these daily rituals with them can help pave the way to happiness even in the darkest of times.

Remember, Dog spelled backward is God. Just sayin….

What are some ways you help yourself feel “lighter” emotionally?

How can you incorporate them more into your day?

why mindfulness

Why Mindfulness?

Written by Megan Bayles Bartley, MAMFT, LMFT

Why Mindfulness? Why is it so important? This quote sums it up wonderfully:

Mindfulness is the Gateway to Peace.

So many of us feel chaotic and worried, pulled in many directions…feeling like a hamster on a hamster wheel, spinning and stuck, wasting away our energy without purpose or direction. I’ve been there. I know what that feels like. And then I was done with feeling that way. I wanted to feel grounded, centered, and at peace.

Peace felt weird at first. The first time I felt it I really didn’t know what it was.. it felt very odd, and different. Finally, it dawned on me and I said to myself, “So this is what it feels like to feel content.” I was used to mood swings… highs and lows. I was always irritable,  frustrated with myself or others and I felt constantly overwhelmed. My body went into “fight, flight, or freeze” mode daily.

Now, my body and mind are used to feeling grounded, centered, and at peace.

I practice practical mindfulness constantly throughout the day by noticing my 5 senses when doing tasks. This means I allow myself to become aware of what I’m doing, thinking, and feeling and check in with myself to see if there is a better option for me at that moment.

I stopped asking, “Why?”

I realized the “Why” is a bottomless pit. We don’t really need to know “why.” “Why” focuses on the past. I’m not going in that direction. I’m moving forward. Instead, I ask, “How?” “What?” Or “Where?”

As in: How do I want to feel differently? How can I get there? What do I need at this moment to best take care of myself? What do I want out of life and what is meaningful to me? Where do I want my life to go?

I also have a flexible morning and evening mindfulness meditation routine. Every day I focus on what I’m grateful for. I also visualize where I’m headed, what I am intending for my day, my year, my life. And I spend time wondering and listening. I’m not formal or rigid with my practice. Rigidity hurts me more than it helps. Instead, I am gentle, kind, and forgiving with myself and subsequently others. I am at peace. And that feels wonderful!

instincts

Trusting Your Instincts

Written by Megan Bayles Bartley, MAMFT, LMFT

“Be willing to trust your instincts, especially if you cannot find answers elsewhere.”~Brian Koslow

This means listening to your gut and your heart. You are the expert on yourself. No one knows you or your situation better than you. So trust yourself.

Many of us have a hard time trusting ourselves. This is to be expected when we are surrounded by others placing their expectations for us on us. Our loved ones love us AND they manage(d) their anxieties of being a parent by “parenting” us in ways that sometimes didn’t feel great for us when we were young (and perhaps even today as adults!).

Were they wrong or bad for doing this? Not necessarily. They likely didn’t know better and saw others doing the same.

What we can do now is offer ourselves new options.

Pretend we’re re-parenting ourselves. We all still have the little 7 year old in us who is still needing something they haven’t gotten. Ask them what it is they are needing. I’m sure they’d be happy to tell you. And likely you already have a good idea.

Then allow your adult self to help get your 7-year-old self’s needs met. You likely do this easily and willingly for others. Now do it for yourself. You deserve it, even if you’ve felt perhaps you didn’t.

Perhaps you also allow this to have an impact on your own parenting?

Notice when you’re managing your anxiety by expecting certain things of your children rather than just allowing them to show up exactly as they are. Don’t get me wrong, there is a fine balance between guiding/teaching/parenting children and allowing them to be themselves. However, perhaps this is a reminder that we all just want to be loved and accepted for exactly who we are.

We all deserve that.

recovering serious person

Hello My Name is Megan, and I am a Recovering Serious Person

Written by Megan Bayles Bartley, MAMFT, LMFT

I love to laugh. Being a recovering serious person, that wasn’t always the case. 

I think I really started to lighten up when I was in grad school to become a therapist in my mid-twenties. By then I had moved from Seattle to Tucson and was now in Louisville, KY. My adventurous spirit transformed my anxiety into excitement. My cohort helped as we collectively had to find some levity in the midst of darkness and heaviness.

Then I met my husband, who has had such titles as “University Mascot” and “Professional Mascot” and “Improv Comedian.” While he brought levity to my life, I also found myself digging into my old ways of seriousness in an attempt for him not to have too much of an influence over me so I wouldn’t subsequently “lose myself” in the relationship.

Then I became a parent and was in a tension between not wanting to be a rigid, overthinking, anxious person and wanting to do things the “right way.” (As if that is possible.)

Ultimately I realized flexibility was the key. Of course, I opt for a “flexible structure” so that I have a bit of a plan, but am not rigid about it. The more flexible I am with myself and others, the better I feel. And the better others feel around me.

And this flexibility does not mean getting walked all over. I love me some boundaries! I am very clear about what works for me and what doesn’t and I readily speak up for myself.

This brings me back to laughter. I’m realizing laughter is a wonderful medicine. We feel lighter when we laugh.  And perhaps it’s that lightness that helps us become more enlightened. 

forgive

How To Forgive

Written by Megan Bayles Bartley, MAMFT, LMFT

“How do I forgive? How can I let go? When will this feeling go away? How do I get over this?”

These are phrases I hear daily. These are phrases I’ve asked my own therapist.

The best advice I was given is to find compassion for the person or the behavior as well as for myself. I had no idea what this looked like. I wasn’t even really open to the idea at first. It seemed that if I was compassionate, I would be excusing the person and the behavior. It took me years, if not decades, to allow that compassion to slowly become more present in my life and feel it make a home in my heart. It was DEFINITELY not an easy process.

The more compassion grew inside of me, I finally understood why it is so important. I thought of all the years I spent (perhaps wasted) in anger, fear, and anxiety that hurt me much more than it hurt anyone else.

Be open to compassion. If not for someone else, at least for yourself.

When you are compassionate with yourself, you model for others how to treat you. When you are compassionate with others, you invite them to be compassionate with you.

You deserve it. You are worth it.

free time

Free Time: Ever Heard of It?

Written by Megan Bayles Bartley, MAMFT, LMFT

“You will accomplish great things in your free time this week.”

-Fortune Cookie

I was having lunch with a dear friend and her family recently and received this message in my fortune cookie. It was quite fortuitous as I was out-of-town and in “vacation mode” so there was lots of “free time.” You know what I’m talking about, right? That feeling of unstructured playtime you can do whatever you want with. Yes, even as adults we get playtime! Most of us only feel it when we’re on vacation…sometimes. Sometimes “vacation” is more of a “relocation” when we feel like we need to entertain and cook and clean and plan. We don’t often get that sense of freedom that comes with “free time.”

Free time. What a wonderful concept.

I’m wondering if you feel like you have free time on a weekly or daily basis – time that is unstructured and open for you to do whatever you want. Maybe you choose to just be in the moment and do nothing. Maybe you choose to treat yourself to a coffee or trip to your favorite store. Whatever it is, it is time that you are free to do what you want to do, not necessarily need to do.

I’ve been thinking a lot about things we THINK we need to do and things we actually need to get done. On this recent trip I noticed that while I was away, I was not needed (by work, family, life, etc.) as much as I had felt the weeks and months leading up to the trip. I started wondering if I was putting the pressure on myself to be DOING all the time and therefore “needing to do” stuff that perhaps didn’t really NEED to be done. Are you feeling me here?!

So I decided to start an experiment.

Those who know me, know I love a good experiment! I decided to see if I could go home after this vacation and bring with me the same feeling of “not NEEDING to DO” that I felt on vacation.

This is quite fascinating to me as I have spent the last several months really challenging myself with this concept. Before vacation, I was paying attention to whether or not I was forcing things to happen or allowing them. This is a tricky concept because I get caught up in the “doing” of MAKING (forcing) things to happen. I busy myself with a lot of things I think I NEED to DO to make something happen. What I’ve seen over the years is that while there is a fair amount of doing that needs to take place in order to make things happen, there is also a fair amount of being that is also needed.

Just Being.

What I am reflecting on lately is that some of the most wonderful things happen when I am just being. Wonderful things also happen from the culmination of my doing as well. So there’s a tension between the two. In this tension and in most moments of tension I ask myself, “What is it I really want to do?” and “What feels best to me right now?” I have also noticed that the more I ask myself these searching-types of questions, I stay away from judging myself, being hard on myself, and “Shoulding” all over myself. I’m not telling myself what to do, I’m asking myself respectfully, what will be best for me at this moment. And that feels wonderful!

So when I think of accomplishing great things with my free time, I am reminded that in my free time I feel FREE. In that freedom comes openness, creativity, imagination, dreaming, excitement, wonder, options. This is the type of thinking I’m aiming to cultivate in the monthly class I offer (beginning in January) AND the rejuvenating women’s retreat happening in Napa Valley in January 2022. To find out more, visit my website!

worry

Worry Too Much?

Anxiety, we all have it from time to time. Though rarely welcomed, it can be a healthy response to life’s challenges and is a natural human response. In fact, anxiety acts as our body’s alarm system, allowing us to anticipate when we are in danger or in harm’s way. But if left unchecked, anxiety can be an overwhelming, never-ending cycle of worry that keeps us from understanding important parts of ourselves.

If you experience anxiety, ask yourself this:

If your mind wasn’t full of these current ANXIOUS thoughts, what would you think about? Although not necessarily pleasant, anxiety can serve as a distraction from dealing with what really needs to be addressed at the core.

Here are some signs that worry might be problematic in your life:

  • Chronically on alert and thinking about potential future dangers or threats.

  • Consistently making negative predictions about the future.

  • Tend to overestimate the likelihood that something bad will happen.

  • Repeat worried thoughts over and over again in your head.​

How can I tell if my anxiety is normal?

Anxiety is problematic when it is constant and goes unresolved, interfering with your lifestyle and relationships. An anxiety disorder can keep a person from coping with life’s ups and downs and make a person feel anxious most of the time, sometimes without any identifiable cause.

If this sounds like your current experience with anxiety, perhaps it’s time to change your relationship with anxiety by altering your perspective on it.

You don’t have to go it alone. Seeking professional care for your anxiety can provide hope and clarity on how to best navigate it.