You do not have to be good

You do not have to be good

“You do not have to be good,” writes Mary Oliver. “You do not have to walk on your knees/ for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting./ You only have to let the soft animal of your body/ love what it loves.”

It’s a beautiful poem, one that resonates across generations and lands – I think in part because so many of us spend our lives trying to be good.

Good is a noble idea isn’t it? It’s wrapped into our fairytales and mythology, stories of good over evil.  That goodness is what holds communities together, that allows for the ultimate happiness, that triumphs over jealousy, rage or violence.

But what happens when our ideas of good are in conflict with what we experience as true?

When our beliefs of what it means to be a good activist, good partner, good parent, good citizen, good worker, good person clash with our desires, boundaries or needs?

Where might good and all its weighty expectations be culture’s poor substitute for wholeness? For sovereignty?

What happens – what guidance do we follow – if we do not have to be good?

I’ve been pondering these questions as I reflect on our inner guidance system, to understand what is ours to do in this time.

Many of us end up lost, at least in part, because we follow not what is true or liberating or whole, but what we consider to be good.

We become painfully afraid to say what it is that we truly want, and what it is that we truly mean.

So today, I want to offer a few love notes to liberation, small but mighty ways we can challenge the tyranny of good, and instead, start to explore what wholeness feels like, and the power that pursuing liberation over goodness may offer us.

  1. Pursue Pleasure.
    We often overlook the importance of pleasure, but as adrienne maree brown beautifully writes, “There is no way to repress pleasure and expect liberation, satisfaction, or joy.”What is pleasure to you? What does it feel like in your body, heart and mind? When did you last allow yourself to feel it in entirety, and what happened when you last closed yourself off to it?Can you enjoy the pleasure of a blueberry? A bike ride? The sun on your skin? Intimate laughter with those you love?What feels like wholeness in this moment?
  2. Speak Truth
    How is your heart doing? Check in with your body as you speak this week. When you answer the ubiquitous “how are you?”, does your response feel honest?  Can you imagine speaking the truth of your experiences right now?Liberation requires vulnerability, and is intimately tied with truth and feeling..
  3.  Make.
    Let your body put pen to paper or bowl to spoon and see what arises. It doesn’t matter what: a cake, an artwork, a poem, an action, anything. But make.Liberation is freedom.  Free yourself – for even an afternoon – from the tyranny of needing your creations to be good.See if you can notice the subtle shifts – the soft animal of your body – and what happens when it acts from desire or creativity, without the domination of control.

Love & courage,


Joy as Resistance

Joy as Resistance

A few years ago when I was a little more active in climate organising, I was part of an affinity group with a penchant for dance actions.  We held space with dance and music, channelling our emotions into action, publicly declaring our intentions for a more just and regenerative world.

We used our joy as part of our resistance.

I love this method for so many reasons.

One, my experience matches that of Monica Hunken, who said “I’ve done a lot of actions and a lot of blockades and we always have more time in the space … with theater or dance or music,” before the police break up the scene. Sometimes, she says “the security guards might even enjoy it.”

And secondly, with influence from Kazu Haga’s wisdom, I believe that our movements can and should be spaces for healing.  Healing and art, in my experience, go hand in hand.

My calling to devote more time to art and activism is getting stronger again.  As I dip my toes back in, I’m conscious to call on the tools I teach in my burnout to thriving course, Internal Revolution.

(Yep – I need them too, and created this course for a reason).

For activism – and any form of changemaking – to be sustainable we need spaces that infuse and inspire our joy, as much as our rage.  That fill us back up.

Because I’m not interested (and I suspect, neither are you), in just  ‘avoiding burnout’.  I care about thriving.  Flourishing.  Living my most meaningful, exciting and impactful life.

So, if you’re curious to learn more, join the free workshop on July 27, From Burnout to Thriving.

I’ll be giving away one free spot at that workshop to my longer program, Internal Revolution starting in August, but whether you want or can join that, you’ll get lots of value from this workshop alone.

Love & courage


4000 weeks

4000 weeks

4000 weeks.
That’s the average amount of weeks most of us have in a life.   
It’s such a startling small number. 
When we think in years, the length of each one can feel longer than we actually have.  The average age so distant from where we are now.  
As days, the time passes fast, with a large number that feels unrelatable.  
But as weeks – 4000 is a beautiful, small & timely number.
My question for you today, is how would you like to spend these 4000 weeks?

For me, I would like many of them to be in service to a more beautiful world. 
But I also want my experience of them to be pleasurable, meaningful, joyful – a lived experience with awe, wonder, ease (interspersed of course with the less pleasurable experiences, that offer wisdom none-the-less). 
Sometimes though, life & changemaking – whatever form we do – feels more like struggle.  In some contexts, the words are even synonymous.
For anyone in activism or change-work, the level of crises we face, the injustice that takes place, the inequity around us feels heavy
For every time we dream of something beautiful, we’ve surely experienced sadness, despair, anger, hopelessness at the world as it is. 
Plus – we all live in the world.  There’s jobs, bills, health issues, families – a million things demanding our attention.    
This feeling of struggle can be an easy one to spend our 4000 weeks in, dipping our toes in and out. 
There’s a beautiful Naropa University commencement speech from Brenda Salgado.  She suggests we are called at this time to release the word struggle from our attitude and vocabulary. 
It’s a bold statement, & it doesn’t pretend that there an’t challenges or hardships.   

But our attitude and our vocabulary can also have more power than we realise.  
What would it be like for you to release struggle from your attitude and vocabulary this week? 

To face your challenges with an attitude of ease or trust? 
And what you like to experience with what remains of your 4000 weeks?

Love & courage,


Happiness & Climate Change

Happiness & Climate Change

happiness and climate changeHappiness & climate change

Do you think you can be happy in the future? I mean really, truly happy?

And what does happy even mean?

It’s a word that gets thrown around a lot, and I think we sometimes get confused about what happiness is.

I was at a workshop on eco-anxiety recently, and I heard a woman saying that she feels we need to give up on this idea of happiness – that we need to accept we can’t have it, that we need to drastically change our lives and just get used to getting by.  Another said we need to swap our cultural obsession with happiness for contentment, which is closer to how I feel but also so…. lackluster? I mean, contentment is nice, but it does sound kind of… blah.

But what is happiness? And how do we reconcile a happy future with the climate crisis?

I don’t think of happiness as an emotion, as much as an underlying state – a result of meeting our needs and living our values.

The conditions for happiness are the same for most of us, with a few differences that are unique to us.  Needs for belonging, connection, community, purpose and fun are intrinsic to all of us – foundational needs for happiness.

And then some of us need more freedom than others, or more stability, or more passion, more creativity and the like.

The struggle arises when we confuse happiness and joy, happiness and laughter, happiness and more.  We think happiness is outside of ourselves. We look somewhere ‘out there’ for it, as if it is a place we reach or a jewel we obtain when we just do the right thing.

Happiness never comes from doing though (note: joy, anticipation, ecstasy all can).

We’ve been sold this lie about happiness most of our lives: that if we just follow the dotted line, go to college, get the right job, follow our passion, find the right person, get the promotion and so on, that we’ll be happy – as if it’s some beautiful, static experience that we get to keep if we just do things right.

But most of us know that it doesn’t work this way.

When we look at happiness as a cultivated state, it doesn’t mean you won’t feel sad, angry, grief-stricken or challenged at times – in fact, I promise you will.  These experiences can’t be avoided, and the more we try, the more we numb – the more we numb, the less happy we are.  So you will feel pain, but underneath it your foundation can still include happiness. This is true, even in the face of climate change.

The conditions for real happiness – belonging, connection, purpose, fun – are also antidotes to the culture of separation and endless growth that brought us to this point in time.

Pursuing happiness also isn’t selfish – aren’t we our most generous, our most loving, our most creative when we’re feeling good?  Aren’t we our most resilient?  I am certain that our happiest lives and our most impactful work are linked.

Why do we think we can change the world by struggling more?

How do we expect liberation when we’re shackled to fear or struggle?

How can we pursue social healing without seeing happiness as at least a possibility?

What do you think? Share your thoughts below or read more on happiness here.

Living from the Heart… & Other Lessons from Bhutan

Living from the Heart… & Other Lessons from Bhutan

I was slowly settling into a new life in Amsterdam when I saw the advertisement for the Slow Change program in Bhutan.  Despite being a world away, I instantly knew I needed to join.  2016 had been a challenging year for me – I moved countries twice, ended a meaningful relationship, and despite having the intention to ‘lay foundations’, spent most of my time country hopping on over 30 flights between 14 countries, searching for something I felt I had lost.  Bhutan, it seems, was it.

Bhutan is a small, mountainous country nestled between the giants of China and India. No paved roads until the 1960’s, no TV or internet until 1999, no GMO’s and almost entirely organic farming. A country that is not just carbon neutral, but carbon negative, and a land with no foreign tourists until the 1970’s. With an entire series of kings that prioritised the wellbeing and happiness of their people, Bhutan is a country like no other.

Landing after a mildly harrowing flight from Bangkok to Paro, the crisp mountain air and startling warm sunshine provided me with an early appreciation for the small mountain kingdom, and marked the beginning of what I knew would be a transformative journey.

The Slow Change program was a two-week workshop run jointly by the Gross National Happiness Centre and Humankind Enterprises, bringing together 20 young changemakers to learn about the intersection of Gross National Happiness (GNH) and Slow Change – a deep inner transformation in the way we live and work. We travelled across the country exploring the country’s cultural vibrancy, strong sense of spirituality and the nations governing principle – Gross National Happiness.

I first heard about Gross National Happiness, or GNH, about five years ago, and although I was fascinated with the concept, I remember thinking that it sounded a little like a puff piece, a nice idea with no real substance. What could a country so small, so isolated, and so radically different have to teach the world? As it turns out, a lot.

While I won’t go into the history, pillars or domains of Gross National Happiness (you can read more about these here), the deep complexity and versatility of GNH became clear as we visited local schools, attended daily lectures and were given opportunities to question local spiritual leaders.

Being a Buddhist country, mindfulness quickly became a daily practice, and we were privileged to visit sacred meditation sites, some as old as 800 years. The stillness embedded in the land  was palpable, and although we were encouraged to ponder the meaning of Gross National Happiness and Slow Change, another topic – living from the heart – was begging for my attention.

It’s not news that the world faces challenges never encountered by earlier generations, whether it is climate change and sustainability, plastics pollution, increasing refugee numbers, fear, xenophobia or terrorism. We see over 350 million people worldwide suffering from depression, soaring rates of anxiety and a culture that glorifies burnout, exhaustion and chronic over-working. We are more digitally connected than ever before, but rarely know the names of our own neighbours.

These problems will not be solved by a quick fix or magic bullet, but are representative of the need for a fundamental shift in the way we live and work, a large reason I was drawn to Bhutan. As Albert Einstein once said, no problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.

In the pursuit of happiness, western culture encourages us to pursue extrinsic goals such as financial success, an ever-growing economy, popularity, networking and looking attractive, as ways to be successful.  It’s these same values, however, that have us pursuing endless growth or ‘more’ at the expense of our communities, our environment and our connection to nature and each other. 

If you ask the average person, however, what is most important to them, they tend to list intrinsic motivations such as family, friends & community (connection), health (physical wellbeing) & feeling good (self-love & acceptance), which research backs up as ultimately being more fulfilling.

Intrinsic goals like the above, along with values such as compassion, mercy, wisdom and love, have long been associated with the idea of heart, and as I travelled through Bhutan I began to answer my own question of what a heart-based society would look like. Gross National Happiness is an example of one such way of life, which is why it is so radically unique. Its guiding principle is not the endless pursuit of ‘more’, of searching for fulfilment outside of itself, but rather the wellbeing of its people, its environment and its culture.

Bhutan is not a perfect country. It is not without problems, and it too is facing unprecedented challenges as it moves further into connection with the rest of the world. For me, however, it is best described as a heart opening land. Its stillness allowed me to stop chasing the extrinsic goals I had been pursuing all year. It reminded me that I am exactly where I am supposed to be, and that the first step to creating a more heart-centred society is to tune in and listen to my own heart.

Bhutan provided me with a deep sense of connection to my values of compassion, connection and grace, and it showed me that not only must we live by heart-based values as individuals, but as communities and nations too.

Concepts like Gross National Happiness, and even happiness in general, don’t fascinate us because they are a pretty term or a fancy band-aid for the world’s problems. They connect with the part of us that recognises our current model of living is not working, and our endless desire for endless growth is no longer fulfilling.  As individuals, communities and nations, we crave something more – something embodied by Bhutan and its philosophy of Gross National Happiness.  Perhaps the small Himalayan kingdom, with its radically big idea, can show us the way.

I’ll write more on my Bhutan experience and the lessons I have learnt from Gross National Happiness and Slow Change over time, but if you’re interested in learning more, you can check out the blogs of some other participants, Sophie Benbow, Samantha BennettMike Davis & Christiane Schicker

Have questions about Bhutan, GNH or happiness? Send me an email at laura@appleseedcoaching.com

Happiness as a Way of Life

Happiness as a Way of Life

Happiness as a way of life. Laura Hartley Life Coach.Recently I was speaking with a friend about what makes a happy life, and like many people, he didn’t know what made him happy. I didn’t find his answer surprising, except he then said that he didn’t really need to be happy. He viewed striving for happiness as potential failure – too much effort, with too much risk. He continued that if you asked the average person what happiness was, and what made them happy, that they wouldn’t know the answer, and what was wrong with that? Not everyone could do what they wanted in life, and contentment was safer.

As I listened to him speak, I recognised him use the same words for happiness that I had always used – reaching happiness, finding happiness, doing something that makes me happy. I’ve been searching for happiness most of my life. I’ve looked for it in travelling, drugs, sex, careers, moving countries and, like most 20-somethings, relationships. I’ve searched for it, strived for it, and without even realising, devoted most of my life to achieving it.

But here’s what I have learnt – happiness isn’t something that can be achieved. Happiness isn’t a moment, and it doesn’t live in the individual dramas of our lives.   It is not a place we reach or something we find, but rather a way in which we live. Happiness is the summation of our willingness to grow, our acceptance and embrace of the present moment, our honour for our deepest callings and our gratitude for everything, even that which hurts.

It sounds clichéd, and we’ve all heard the quotes of happiness being the journey, not the destination. On an intellectual level I always believed this, though it is only recently that I have come to understand it.

There is a difference between happiness and joy, and I truly believe that our lives can always be happy, even if we are not always joyful. A happy life should have frequent and consistent moments of joy, those times when our face lights up with excitement and passion, but some pain is unavoidable. Whether we respond to the pain with resistance however, or recognise it as part of our becoming, is what measures our relationship to happiness.

Several years ago I wrote a piece on the Huffington Post in which I spoke about a moment of awakening. I realised that my life was not singular or alone, and that our purpose came not from serving ourselves but from connecting to something greater than us, whether that be God, nature, or simply humanity. Our happiness comes from the same place; not an event, a person or even an achievement, but a connection to the deepest parts of ourselves, and that which is eternal – the present moment.

Maybe we struggle with the question of what makes us happy because we haven’t learned what it means to live in a happy way; to make choices that empower and support us, to cultivate compassion, to act courageously in the face of our fear and to feel, fully and wholly whatever we are experiencing, whether that be anger, sadness or joy.

We live in a society that tells us that happiness is outside of us. Brands like Coca-Cola suggest we ‘open happiness’, and magazines offer five tips for a happier life, as if enlightenment will come from the next kale smoothie. It is no wonder that contentment is seen as easier than happiness, and we live in search of something elusive. I’m learning though that if we change our understanding of happiness to a way of living instead of a place to reach, maybe it isn’t so elusive after all. Maybe it’s here, right now, in my every day choices and my embrace of what is.

I’m grateful to be joining a 10-day trip to Bhutan this November, the only country which measures Gross National Happiness over Gross Domestic Product, and in the lead up I’m spending some time reflecting on the idea of happiness. I’m curious about what you think makes a happy life. Do you agree with the above or would you change something? Let me know in the comments or send me an email to laura@appleseedcoaching.com