To “seek fulfillment” sounds like an impossibly large undertaking, the stuff of epic spiritual journeys. But fulfillment might not be as unattainable as you think — it could simply be a matter of changing your outlook, or of getting into some good habits.
What would it mean to be truly fulfilled? Being fulfilled isn’t quite the same thing as being happy or successful. In a literal sense, “to fulfill” means to complete a promise — a store fulfills an order, a charity fulfills a mission, and so on. Merriam-Webster defines “to fulfill” as “to develop the full potentialities of.” So to seek fulfillment in one’s life isn’t only looking for joy or success — it’s a search for a sense of completion, of wholeness. It’s about feeling that you have “developed your full potentialities,” that you are whole in and of yourself.
Finding fulfillment isn’t a matter of making huge accomplishments or completely changing who you are. It’s about building small habits that affect the way you live and approach the world, and it’s about changing how you view yourself. The following habits may help you on your way. To be honest, this list is “aspirational”. Most of us are all still figuring these things out, too, and often struggling to live by own advice. But it’s the trying that matters, and the little changes we make along the way.
1. Know thyself.
If your self-image is out of sync with whom you actually are, that internal dissonance can interfere with finding happiness and achieving your goals. By having a firm understanding of who you are, you can make good decisions about your life and your future, about how you can use your skills most effectively, and about when it might be best to bow out. Knowing yourself means that you can acknowledge your faults and limitations, but it also means that you recognize your strengths, which is sometimes the hardest thing to do. Not many like to boast about what we can do well.
2. Don’t worry about what other people expect — or what you think other people expect.
If being fulfilled is about finding a sense of internal completion, then you can’t find fulfillment and live according to other people’s expectations. You have no control over what others think or want, and fulfilled people learn to live according to their own internal compasses, They don’t care about expectations.
It’s also important to be able to recognize when the expectations and pressures you feel from others are actually of your own making. This is an issue that I realized not too long ago was haunting my own life. For ages, I had been beating myself up for not meeting other people’s expectations, operating on the assumption that, in their eyes, I had failed. It took me a long time — and some firm talks from the loved ones in my life — to realize that nobody actually thought that about me. Only I did — I thought that. I had projected my own insecurities onto others, assuming that they must be as harsh critics of me as I am. Eventually I realized that the disapproval I felt came from me alone — and that it was therefore up to me to move on and be kinder to myself.
3. Practice gratitude — for the big things and the little things.
Give thanks, sincerely and often — not only for major things in your life, like your family and the roof over your head, but also the small moments that bring you contentment, joy, or laughter in the short term. Such as: a yummy dinner. A really good snuggle on the couch with the dog. A long, hot shower. A good conversation. Singing along to your favorite song on the commute home. Regardless of the big stresses or uncertainties that hang over your life, it’s these small moments of pleasure that make life good in the day-to-day.
4. Don’t compare yourself to other people.
It’s normal to feel envious of other people some of the time. But fulfilled people don’t let jealousy rule their lives. Jealousy is fundamentally externally-focused — it expends energy outward, to other people, seeking ways to chip away at your sense of worth, and to inflame the places where you feel inadequate. Fulfillment requires that you direct that energy inward, toward knowing yourself and valuing who you are, not worrying about what other people may or may not have.
5. “Don’t sweat the small stuff.”
This is my favorite saying. When I get completely worked up about things that are stressful in the moment, but “that won’t really matter in the long term”, it is time to step back and consider the impact in a year from now. When we let ourselves get bogged down in minutia, we can lose sight of the bigger picture — the steps we’re making toward our goals, and the things and people that bring us happiness.
6. Have lofty goals, but let yourself be happy in the meantime.
Having big dreams — be they professional, creative, personal, or anything else — is a great thing, and working toward them is part of being a fulfilled person. But a truly fulfilled person knows that life can’t always be about deferment — “I’ll be happy when I finish this project,” “I’ll let myself take a break after I finally achieve my goal,” “I’ll feel like a worthwhile person when I get promoted ” — being fulfilled means feeling complete in yourself now. It means recognizing that you are valuable in and of yourself, and that your sense of worth and happiness isn’t contingent on external achievements or other people’s approval. Fulfilled people work toward goals that are important to them, but they let themselves enjoy the process of getting there.
7. Live in the now. Be present. Practice mindfulness. (aka Sometimes clichés are clichés for a reason.)
We hear people say things like “Be present” so often that these phrases can start to lose meaning, but the fact that they’re not particularly original doesn’t mean they’re not true. When you’re stuck looking back on the past, or always looking toward the future, you miss the small, but important joys that your life is capable of now. It’s good to have a sense of self-awareness and an ability to see the past mistakes you’ve made, and it’s good to be able to imagine the future you want for yourself. But a fulfilled person takes the time to fully experience life as it’s happening.
Live, Love and Laugh because you only live once!
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