The search for fulfillment dates back thousands of years and stretches across civilizations — from Buddha to Aristotle. It feels like we’re all trying to work how to live a fulfilling life... but what does that actuallymean?
What constitutes fulfillment changes between individuals and can be such a personal thing. And yet it’s hard to find fulfillment, if we don’t know what we’re looking for.
You can’t chase a feeling.
But you can identify the things that add value to your life. And then do more of them.
What does fulfillment mean?
Fulfillment is about feeling ‘full’, feeling satiated and like you’re getting the most out of life.
It’s different to joy: a short-term feeling that is tied to a present moment.
Fulfillment is a deep satisfaction with your life. And while it’s tempting to chase external rewards and gratification — a higher salary, a faster car — finding a sense of fulfillment can only come from within. It’s individual and relative. But it always comes back to the same basic principles.
If you ask a psychologist, they’d say that an overall feeling of happiness in life consists of three elements:
A pleasant life
Doing things every day that bring you joy, fun, and excitement — like walking along the beach or spending time with close friends.
A good life
This is achieved by identifying your unique skills and talents, then employing them to enrich your life. Finding a job you’re passionate about, for example or recreational pursuits you excel in.
A meaningful life
Using your talents and resources in service of the greater good: to benefit others or make the world a better place.
How do we live fulfilling lives?
Again, the answer to this is going to look very different from one person to the next. So we’ll give you the tools, and then you’ll have to do the work.
Answer the questions below, and you’ll start to paint a picture of what fulfillment looks like to you.
What small things bring you joy?
Happiness and fulfillment go hand-in-hand. Think about the everyday things in your life that bring you joy, whether it’s being with loved ones, reading a book in the sun, or cooking your favorite meal. If you’re having trouble identifying the specific activities that bring you joy, it may be helpful to identify your signature strengths using the Character Strengths Survey created by the VIA Institute on Character. Studies show that when we use more of our signature strengths regularly, our happiness and fulfillment improve.
Make a list of the things that bring you the most joy in life — choose 5 things, max. Then try to do one thing every day that brings you pure joy.
What do you do to help others?
To find a sense of meaning, it’s essential for you to dedicate some part of your life to the service of bettering the world around us. Again, you have to choose something that works for you, maybe that’s donating to charity or volunteering for a cause close to your heart. Maybe you don’t like to work with a plan, and so simply committing to one random act of kindness each day is the best way forward.
How do you picture your life in 5, 10, or 20 years?
It might sound cliche, but writing a letter to your future self can be really helpful in picturing your ideal life. Choose a time frame, and get your vision of the future down onto paper.
Be super specific: where you live, what you do for work, your hobbies, what you do in your spare time, who you live with, what your relationships are like. Then you can use this as a sort of North Star to guide you toward a meaningful life.
How do you express yourself?
Neuroscientists believe that self-expression is essential to our personal growth and connection with other people.
Some people are lucky enough to channel their self-expression at work, but often you’ll need to find other channels to express who you really are. Reflect on the things in your life that have brought you the biggest sense of achievement — things you did well andreally enjoyed. See if there’s a common theme between the times you’ve felt most fulfilled, and chase more opportunities down.
What are the most important relationships in your life?
Meaningfulness involves deep relationships with loved ones. Spending time with friends contributes to happiness, but you need deep connections with close relations to attain a sense of meaning. Simply “showing up” by making plans to spend time with those that matter most and following through on those plans is one of the most effective ways to deepen your connections.
Think about the most important relationships you have, and what they mean to you. Make it a priority to nurture them, and put time into developing and growing them.
What are your short- and long-term goals?
When we achieve our goals and constantly move forward, even inch by inch, we’re working towards fulfillment. “Stuck in a rut”, “Trapped in a funk”, whatever you want to call it — standing still does nothing for our sense of purpose.
The solution? Identify one or two goals that contribute to your overall sense of meaning: things that will better yourself or contribute to the ‘greater good’. Start small and achievable, so you get the achiever’s buzz. Then stretch yourself, and go looking for challenges who reflect who you are and what you’re all about.
How to live a fulfilling life? Step by step and day by day
All good things take time — and they’re worth working for, too.
Fulfillment is no different.Small, incremental changes to your everyday mindset and behaviors will add up. And for more inspiration and support in that mission, subscribe to The Good Life journal. We’re on that journey with you.