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Dr. Teralyn Sell On How Simplifying & Decluttering Your Life Can Make You Happier

An Interview With Drew Gerber

We live in a time of great excess. We have access to fast fashion, fast food, and fast everything. But studies show that all of our “stuff” is not making us any happier. How can we simplify and focus on what’s important? How can we let go of all the clutter and excess and find true happiness? In this interview series, we are talking to coaches, mental health experts, and authors who share insights, stories, and personal anecdotes about “How Simplifying and Decluttering Your Life Can Make Us Happier.” As a part of this series, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Dr. Teralyn Sell, PhD, Licensed Psychotherapist.

Dr. Teralyn has worked with families and individuals for more than two decades. Her passion is helping people to live their best life through improving the health of their brain. She is a pioneer in the field of psychology as she constantly strives to bring cutting edge brain health solutions so people can establish lives of resiliency and connections with minimal to no pharmacological interventions. Dr. Teralyn has been featured on multiple top tier media outlets for her work with brain health for mental health.er.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share your “backstory” with us? What was it that led you to your eventual career choice?

Well, the long and short of this is that I have worked in the service field since I was in my twenties. I have been a business owner since I was 28 years old. I started in early childhood education and owned 3 childcare centers. I made that my career until I realized that my children would soon outgrow the need for daycare. I clearly remember contemplating what my next career path would bring. I remember being inspired by Oprah Winfrey and her gratitude journals. I was also intrigued by her guest, Dr. Phil (cliché, right?). Well, I was sitting in my daycare office thinking about a career that I could still be my own boss and help others. I saw therapist and was hooked. I went back for my master’s degree in 2002 and continued until I graduated with my PhD in 2012. My kids at the time when I started were 1, 7 and 12. When I graduated with my PhD were 11, 17 and 22. While I was going to school, being a mom and owning 3 childcare centers I started working for the State Prison system. This is where I eventually gained my licensure hours, working with the most mentally ill inmates in the state. After the daycares were sold, I ended my state career and headed out on my own in private practice and have been doing that successfully for the last decade or so.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

I have so many interesting stories due to working with inmates, but those involve some dark humor. I think the most interesting thing that happened is when I started studying how nutrition and amino acids can improve mental health. I clearly remember being so excited that when I worked in prison, I found a research article about how Omega three fatty acids helped reduce aggression in county jail. I presented this information at a care plan meeting and was all but laughed out of the room. That only fueled my fire to learn more and since then using nutrition and amino acids in my practice is basically a staple. Since the pandemic I have had over 1,000 media interviews on the subject as was selected by the American Psychological Association (APA) as a media source so that’s pretty cool.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

The project I am currently working on is developing a non-profit organization whose sole purpose is to eliminate therapist burnout. The health of the mental health therapist isn’t talked about enough, and we are often pushed to our limits not realizing we have burned ourselves out. Without healthy therapists, we cannot help others the way our profession intends. In today’s high demand for mental health solutions and high burnout rate of therapists, we are in for a crisis that only a few of us saw coming. I’m hoping to change the conversation for therapists and help them have robust careers without sacrificing their own mental health to do it.

Can you share with our readers a bit about why you are an authority on the topic of “How Simplifying and Decluttering Your Life Can Make You Happier”?

I’m really an expert on happiness because I conducted and published original research on the topic for my PhD dissertation. The literature review was very interesting because time and time again it pointed to individuals that had very little possessions or lived through conditions that are extremely undesirable as being happier than the average American. When someone who lives in a grass hut identifies as happy and satisfied with life whereas the average college graduate does not, there is a problem. Additionally, the original research was with maximum security incarcerated males (who have the bare minimum). One would have thought they would be unhappy, but they identified as pretty happy overall, a shocking discovery.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. We live in a time of excess. We have access to so much. But studies show that all of our “stuff” is not making us any happier. Can you articulate for our readers a few reasons why all of our possessions are not giving us happiness?

I can refer back to the study about the people who live in grass huts. Their lives, although grueling, were filled with less distraction. They had a profound sense of community and connection. All our ‘stuff’ is distraction from what really matters, connection. Though we have multiple ways to connect, we also have so many distractions from connecting. Our homes are bigger, our lives are busy, we just aren’t connecting to each other. We are choosing ‘things’ over relationships and that’s a problem.

On a broader societal level, how do you think this excessiveness may be harming our communities and society?

We can turn to sociology for some of these answers. The study of sociology is the intersection between humans, their relationships and the environment or community they live in. If we are so isolated from each other and so filled with distractions, we are missing out on the very thing we crave and thrive in, community and belonginess. Living in excess also leads to stress. I have yet to meet someone with ‘more’ that doesn’t work extraordinarily hard to keep all of those things. It’s like spinning plates. The more you have the more plates you spin, the more you have to keep spinning. Our stress response impacts our hormones and neurotransmitters. This creates the perfect mental health storm.

The irony of struggling with happiness in modern times is glaring. In many places in the world today, we have more than ever before in history. Yet despite this, so many people are unhappy. Why is simplifying a solution? How would simplifying help people to access happiness?

Simplifying takes away the distraction, it helps us focus on what is in front of us, people and connections. The more stuff you have the more disconnected and distracted you are. Simplifying can reduce our overall stress load which will not only improve our physical health but also our mental health.

Can you share some insights from your own experience? Where in your life have you transformed yourself from not having enough to finally experiencing enough? For example, many people feel they don’t have enough money. Yet, people define abundance differently, and often, those with the least money can feel the most abundant. Where in your health, wealth, or relationships have you transformed your life?

Just before I finished my master’s degree my husband lost his job. We had the three young kids, the big house, two cars, etc, etc. Basically the ‘American dream’ if you will. It was really a house of cards. When he lost his job, we had very little reserves and ended up working 6 jobs between us just to keep it all going for about 2 years. We lost our health insurance and struggled putting food on the table, but we ‘lived in a beautiful home. We finally made the decision to sell our house (just before the big housing market crash) and the realtor told us it would take about a year. So, we put it on the market, and it sold in 72 hours. It was the biggest relief of our lives, scary, but relieving. We then made a two year ‘recovery’ plan in which we got rid of most of our things and moved into a tiny townhouse we rented. It was like we could breathe again. Within a year, my husband found gainful employment and we moved again. Only this time, we did it with our eyes open financially and lived ‘small’ and saved. We are still in that house 16 years later. All our kids are grown and out of the nest and we are talking about the big downsize again. I define abundance as a life well lived, not by what you have. Many people who have ‘things’ are really quite miserable. They buy more to fill in gaps in their marriage or in their discontented careers. Right now, I’m in personal transition again as I contemplate my retirement years. As we move through phases of life, we have to re-evaluate what we want. Life is not stagnant and our choices shouldn’t be either.

People, places, and things shape our lives. For example, your friends generate conversations that influence you. Where you live impacts what you eat and how you spend your time. The “things” in your life, like phones, technology, or books impact your recreation. Can you tell us a little about how people, places, and things in your own life impact your experience of “experiencing enough?”

Throughout my life I have been very protective of my family and very selective of who or what gets the privilege to be close to me. I try very hard to find friendships that can enhance my life through different conversation, different geographic locations and just different experiences. I am also very aware that what I do will come back to me. For instance, my friend’s husband recently died, and I decided to extend a vacation and go to her for a week. I did that because I would hope that I have created robust enough connections with others that they would do the same for me, no questions asked. I am also very particular in the shows I watch; podcasts I listen to. Just as it is important to eat nutrient dense foods for the health of your brain, it is also important to only consume entertainment that is positive and inspiring. I asked my grandfather (who recently died at 96 years old) what was the key to a life well lived. He said family, always keep moving, and listen to classical music every day. Sage advice that I do my best to follow.

What advice would you give to younger people about “experiencing enough?”

My best advice, and one I share with my own adult kids, is to live well under your means. You can still be safe and comfortable, but don’t live your life in extremes. At the end of the day the big house will still be standing but your kids will be grown and out the door. Develop those relationships and don’t worry so much about keeping up with the neighbors. Enough comes from within, not from stuff. Stuff comes and goes, a full heart lasts forever.

This is the main question of our interview. Based on your experience and research, can you share your “five ways we can simplify and declutter our lives to make us happier?”

  1. Start small — Pick one area to declutter. Maybe it’s a room, a closet, a drawer or even an email account. Don’t move on to the next small project until the first one is done to your satisfaction.
  2. Ask yourself questions before you purchase more things. — Sometimes we buy things out of boredom, not necessity. Before you push buy on your amazon cart, put that item in a ‘save later’ area. This will give you time to evaluate if you really need it. Chances are you will forget about that item anyway.
  3. Limit social media — If you can’t eliminate social media, just put some limits on it. For instance, make sure you sweat before you do screens and make sure you don’t use social media a few hours before bed. Not only will you sleep better, be a in a better mood, but you will also be available to connect more with your loved ones and friends because you aren’t distracted.
  4. Create boundaries — It is our job to create healthy boundaries around work and people. It is their job to push those boundaries. Setting and keeping boundaries is a great way to protect your time and simplify your life.
  5. Get rid of the noise — Learning to meditate will help you reduce the internal clutter that you keep in your mind. Meditation and mindfulness are skills that help improve your mental and physical health and will help to give your clarity.
  6. BONUS! Remember that you are enough. The way you think about yourself is reflected in what and who you surround yourself with. People who love you want you for you, not for your things.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

If I could do the most amount of good to the most amount of people, I would turn the mental health industry on its head entirely and instead of focusing on medication, I would focus on brain health, human connection, nutrition and a life well lived to solve this. I really think we have it all wrong and will soon find ourselves in a mental health situation that is caused by medication that is really just looked at like a ‘quick fix’ but it isn’t. We have to remember that you can’t get something for nothing. So many people are now suffering with side effects from medication that they aren’t living their best lives. We have to change that. It is easier and more profound to fix your life than to medicate your way through it.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

My biggest (and most fun) platform is Tik Tok! I can really push some fun limits there to make people think. You can follow me there at @Dr_Teralyn otherwise I’m on all the big social medica platforms or my website www.drteralyn.com

Thank you so much for these insights. This was so inspiring, and so important!

About The Interviewer: For 30 years, Drew Gerber has been inspiring those who want to change the world. Drew is the CEO of Wasabi Publicity, Inc., a full-service PR agency lauded by PR Week and Good Morning America. Wasabi Publicity, Inc. is a global marketing company that supports industry leaders, change agents, unconventional thinkers, companies and organizations that strive to make a difference. Whether it’s branding, traditional PR or social media marketing, every campaign is instilled with passion, creativity and brilliance to powerfully tell their clients’ story and amplify their intentions in the world. Schedule a free consultation at WasabiPublicity.com/Choosing-Publicity.

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Drew Gerber, CEO of Wasabi Publicity

For 30 years, Drew Gerber has been inspiring those who want to change the world