How to Cultivate Meaning & Fulfillment in Your Life
Explore the Relationship Between Meaningfulness, Fulfillment, & Sustainable Happiness
The quest for happiness involves a desire for belonging and feelings of wholeness and inner peace. These longings are arguably at the core of most of our aspirations and motivations. While the yearning for happiness is an inevitable part of human nature, happiness is often confused with something that it is not. Happiness is mistaken as something fleeting that you can attempt to grasp by chasing highs, avoiding painful realities through numbing or positive thinking, and idealizing an overbooked and overstimulating lifestyle. This comes at the expense of emotional depth and leading a meaningful life that would lead to sustainable happiness. For this reason, many people feel unfulfilled even when they gain the things that they thought would make them happy.
Sustainable Fulfillment vs. A Momentary High
In modern society, people are socialized to favor excitement and instant gratification. We are also encouraged to bypass challenging emotions or moments of stillness through distraction and avoidance. While these are all helpful coping strategies, their overuse can lead to feelings of loneliness and emptiness no matter how busy your life is. Avoidance can also cause a sense of lostness, discontentment, and disconnection from meaning and your purpose in life.
As you know, anything that you avoid within yourself will eventually catch up with you over time. You can't run away from yourself, and life will bring forth challenges that require you to slow down and look within.
Life is filled with unpredictable situations, confusing feelings, and things that make us sad or grieve for a long time. In these moments, we are forced to feel these things and face difficult truths about our life choices and how we show up in the world. These challenging times also remind us of our humanity and provide us with an opportunity to engage in life in a meaningful and purposeful way.
Common Symptoms of Feeling Unfulfilled in Life
Avoiding certain aspects of oneself may provide temporary relief, but eventually, it catches up to us. No one can run away from themselves, and life inevitably brings challenges that require self-reflection.
When one feels unfulfilled, it often leads to depression, anxiety, and an overall sense of emotional or physical emptiness. Many people turn to food, alcohol, shopping, or other substances to fill the void. While they offer temporary respite from discomfort, it ultimately causes further depletion and encourages a cycle of seeking immediate gratification.
Unhappiness often results from unsatisfactory relationships, work, or environment. Sometimes, seeking internal fulfillment is necessary before making any significant changes. In other cases, changing one's environment can create the emotional space needed to find meaning and happiness.
A useful way to explore your next steps is to ask whether you need to change your environment or shift your approach to the situation. Sometimes clarity comes easily, while at other times, it requires more introspection.
If you discover that you don’t want to make a change right away, that’s perfectly fine. For example, having a job to fund your hobbies, travel, or other activities can be enriching. While it's possible to find a passion that aligns with your career, it is not the only path to happiness.
The journey toward inner growth and fulfillment begins with self-reflection and acceptance. Life is full of challenges, but by embracing oneself wholly and surrounding oneself with supportive individuals, one can find a sense of peace and contentment.
To begin exploring your deeper calling, here is a three-step process that can help you gain clarity and build more meaningfulness in your life. Take five to ten minutes each day to reflect on the questions below and write down your answers over time.
Step 1: Take inventory
What activities give you energy and meaning?
What drains your energy?
What quick fixes do you rely on for temporary "happiness" that ultimately reinforce a sense of emptiness?
What is something you wanted that you thought would bring happiness, but ultimately disappointed you? What can you learn from this experience?
If you could take a class or pursue a new hobby or skill this year (without having to turn it into a career), what would that be?
What have you been putting off that you know will bring fulfillment to your life?
Step 2: Implementation Plan
What is one thing you can do this week to generate more meaning in your life?
How can you add an element of sacredness to your daily routine?
What activities can you do every day or at least once a week to nourish and enrich your life?
Step 3: Commit
According to habit formation research, you can more than double your chances of successful follow-through if you write down your intentions with a specific action plan. This will also help you avoid procrastination and overcome potential obstacles and setbacks that may arise.
Write down your intentions using the following format:
I, (your name), will (the action you’re going to take) every (day or week) at (the exact time or time of day you’ll do it) in (the specific location you’ll do the action).
If I encounter (a common setback, excuse, or distraction), I will (your plan to overcome the distraction or setback).
Sign your name at the bottom of this statement and put this somewhere where you’ll see it every day.
By engaging in a process of inquiry, you can open yourself up to new dimensions of engagement in your life. As you follow through with your implementation plan, you can put yourself on a path toward inspiration and a meaningful sense of fulfillment and joy. This process can help you clarify what truly matters to you, identify your values, and develop a deeper understanding of your purpose in life. As you gain clarity, you may start to notice new opportunities and experiences that align with your values and bring you a sense of joy and fulfillment in your personal and professional endeavors.