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.
Lack of fulfillment can lead to depression, anxiety, and a feeling that you have a bottomless emotional or physical void within you. Many people try to remedy this by attempting to fill the void with food, alcohol and other substances, shopping for excessive material items, or surrounding themselves with noise to serve as a distraction. This leads to a momentary break from facing the discomfort of the void but ultimately causes you to feel even more depleted while also setting yourself up to crave the next quick fix.
Oftentimes, this comes as a result of being unhappy in your environment, relationships, or your job. Sometimes it’s useful to focus on fostering your own internal sense of fulfillment before making big changes in your environment. Other times, it's important to make situational changes to create emotional space to cultivate more meaning in your life.
If you don't currently feel fulfilled in your job, relationships, or your environment, you might feel overwhelmed about what to do or where to start. Here’s one way to explore your next steps.
Ask yourself whether you need to make a change to your environment or situation, or if you need to shift your approach to the situation.
You might get an answer right away, while other times it takes a while to gain this clarity. Keep asking yourself this question and don’t give up. Eventually, you will have an answer.
If you discover that you don’t want to make a change in your situation because it isn’t the right timing or the responsible thing to do right now, that’s okay. For example, some people feel pressured to find a passion that lines up with a business opportunity or career instead of working at a customary office job. While this is possible, it’s not the only path to happiness. If you choose to keep a job that you don’t necessarily love, make sure to also focus on enriching the time you have outside of work. Think of your job as a blessing that helps to fund your hobbies, travel, and self-enrichment activities.
Below you’ll find a 3 step process to help you begin this exploration and find clues to build more meaning into your life. Take 5-10 minutes a day to reflect on these questions and write down the answers. Over time, you will find clarity and get to know yourself and your deeper calling in a profound way.
Step 1: Take inventory
What gives you energy? What gives your life meaning?
What drains your energy?
What gives you a quick fix of “happiness” but ends up reinforcing the feeling of emptiness?
What’s one thing that you wanted that you thought would give you happiness, that ended up disappointing you once you got it? What can you learn from this experience?
If you could take a class or learn a new hobby or skill this year (without necessarily having to turn it into a career), what would that be?
What have you been putting off that you know will make you feel good about yourself and your life?
Step 2: Implementation Plan
What’s one action you can take this week to generate more meaningfulness in your life?
What does it look like for you to add an element of sacredness into your day-to-day life?
What’s an activity that you can do every day or at least once a week to nourish yourself and enrich your life?
Step 3: Commit
Habit formation research has shown that if you write down your intentions with a specific action plan you’ll more than double your chances to follow through successfully, stick with your action plan and eventually build a new healthy habit. This will also help you to avoid procrastination, and overcome potential obstacles and setbacks that might 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.
This process of inquiry will open you to new dimensions of engagement in your life. Following through with your implementation plan puts you in the way of inspiration and a meaningful sense of fulfillment and joy.