How to Live a More Fulfilling Life
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, many people are reconsidering how they used to live. Being forced to stay at home for months on end was an opportunity for individuals everywhere to take a look at their circumstances and begin to assess whether or not they were really living happily. Before the coronavirus, it was common to be working a full-time job while maintaining a busy schedule of social events and extra work or family obligations, rushing everywhere without taking a second to appreciate things. When all of that was stripped away, many people realized that this way of life was not particularly fulfilling.
The search to be happy and contented is an ongoing one for many of us; although we may be able to identify what individual actions and events make us feel happy or good, it is much harder to put our finger on what about life makes it feel generally happy and good. This is what makes the idea of a fulfilling life at once very tempting and very frustrating. Nevertheless, humans have been searching for fulfillment for millennia: many early religions sought to bring about fulfillment through belief. Indeed, some religions still operate on this principle. Buddhists, for example, aim to acknowledge and accept the world as it is in order to find fulfillment in their lives.
So, what makes a fulfilling life? This is a deceptively complicated question with no simple answer. Each human strives to feel fulfilled, but there is no simple manual on how to go about doing so. In part, this is because fulfillment is an extremely personal and contextual affair that is very dependent on the circumstances – psychological, social, physical, and cultural – of any one given person. For one man, fulfillment might mean spending plenty of time alone reading books and gardening. His next-door neighbor, on the other hand, might experience fulfillment when surrounded by her friends at a political rally or dance club.
Regardless of what specific elements of life you find fulfilling, there are certain things you can do to make your life more fulfilling in general, should you so desire. What’s more, considering that feeling fulfilled has been repeatedly linked to lower stress levels, better sleep, and a boost in overall happiness, you have absolutely no reason not to desire!
Here are a few simple things you can consider doing to help make your life more fulfilling.
Engage in Meaningful Work
In his book,Utopia for Realists, author and historian Rutger C. Bregman describes the type of jobs most people spend their days doing as what in polite company might be called pointless jobs. By this, he refers to the type of work that doesn’t produce anything, serve anyone, but simply helps further the machinery of a larger institution – a bank, for example, or a large company – as it goes about making money for someone else at the top. The percentage of individuals who work in this type of pointless job in the twenty-first century is astounding and is one of the major reasons many people feel consistently unfulfilled.
Research has shown that finding meaning in work is associated strongly with heightened motivation, organizational commitment, work engagement, and overall satisfaction in life.
Of course, any work can be meaningful if you take the right mental approach. Consider this old folk proverb:
Three men are in a quarry breaking rocks up with pickaxes. A woman comes along and asks what each is doing. The first answers: ‘I’m breaking big rocks into little rocks.’ The second answers: ‘I’m feeding my family.’ And the third answers: ‘I am building a cathedral.’ Who do you think will be the most fulfilled?
The point of this fable is that anyone can have a fulfilling job with the right mindset. If you’re struggling to find your weak meaningful, try considering what you do from a different angle, as the third man does in the fable!If you work at a factory on the assembly line, for example, instead of viewing the job as the mere assemblage of parts, consider the role you are playing in the lives of the people who will use and benefit from what you are helping to create!
If, on the other hand, you simply cannot find meaning in your work, consider switching careers to a profession that you know will be meaningful, such as teaching or nursing! Many institutions now offer condensed nursing degrees so that you can get a degree and begin working as a nurse extremely quickly. Elmhurst University, for example, offers a program that will see you accredited in under two years – click here to learn more.
Look After Your Body
Much of fulfillment has to do with a feeling of wellness: it’s very difficult to feel fulfilled if you are depressed, injured, or ill. That’s why one of the most important things you can do in order to help find fulfillment in life is to take care of yourself physically, to avoid putting any undue strain on your ease of navigating the world.
Regular exercise is probably the best way to start ensuring that your body is as healthy as it can be. According to the Mayo Clinic, exercise not only helps you control your weight but also combats health conditions and diseases, boosts your energy, promotes better sleep, and puts you in a better mood! It isn’t hard to see how these things can help towards creating a sense of fulfillment more generally in your life.
The refrain of ‘move your body to feel better’ can seem a bit old and tired – particularly after having heard it so much over the course of the pandemic – but there really is no better way to give your body what it needs than to get a bit of exercise every day. If you can do it outside, all the better! Indeed, some studies have suggested that exercise that is done outside has the extra benefit of making people feel more optimistic, refreshed, and energetic. The added benefit of getting fresh air into your lungs and seeing some greenery make exercising outdoors a key element to feeling more fulfilled.
Eating healthy is also critical to looking after your body properly, and thus to an overall sense of fulfillment in life. Though it may seem tempting to turn to comforting foods like pizza, sandwiches, chips, and candy when you’re feeling low or miserable, indulging in those treats often can have a major impact on the health of your body in the long term.
A diet high in calories, sugars, and fats, and which regularly consists of overly large portions is associated with osteoporosis, cardiovascular problems, obesity, breathing problems, and Type 2 diabetes. Unsurprisingly, these are all things that affect your mind as well! Eating healthily can give you more energy, make it easier for you to accomplish daily physical tasks, and help you sleep better at night. Things like caffeine and sugar have been shown to increase stress levels, which affect your mental health – and unsurprisingly, they affect your mental health for the worse.
Hydrating is also extremely important to a healthy diet! Being hydrated means consuming enough water in a day to support the regular functioning of your organs – in particular, your heart. What’s more, don’t just drink when you feel thirsty, as that is only an indicator that you’re already dehydrated! Take routine sips of water throughout the day and you’ll find that your general outlook on things improves mightily.
Cultivating meaningful work and looking after yourself physically (and therefore mentally!) are great ways of taking steps towards having a more fulfilled life, but they can be hard to maintain. This is particularly true if you find yourself faced with difficulties, challenges, and hardships, as many of us are! Life is full of sadness, anger, and traumatic events, and we, as humans, have a habit of trying to shy away from these things or trying to protect ourselves from them by hiding away or engaging in comforting behaviors that don’t always lead to feelings of wellness, either physically or mentally!
That’s why one of the most important things you can begin to do to have a more fulfilling life is to cultivate resilience. Defined as the capacity to withstand and rebound from disruptive life challenges, resilience is the way in which humans are able to adapt to and recover from difficult events in their lives. If you are able to develop your resilience, things that would otherwise disrupt your feeling of fulfillment in life – accidents, fights with other people, tragedies, and catastrophes, etc. – are less able to get under your skin.
Psychologists have asserted that you can build up your resilience in a number of ways: healthy habits, as we mentioned above, are great at building resilience, but also being mindful of how you are living – considering who you affect with your actions, being grateful for what you have, and always keeping in mind the joy of being alive and on the earth – is a huge part of developing resilience.
With this in mind, try creating a gratitude journal where you write down everything you are grateful for at the end of each day. You’ll soon find that your outlook on life is more positive as you tally up the good in each day, and you’ll be looking forward to writing these things down with each passing week. As your months stack up with moments of gratitude, a sense of fulfillment with life generally is bound to follow!
Make Lasting Human Connections
Another critical element of building resilience is human connection. At the end of the day, this is probably the most important piece of the fulfillment puzzle: no human is an island, after all, and the more sincere human connections you can build, the better off you will be. Science has routinely demonstrated that isolation causes unhappiness, and this is something many of us experienced first-hand during the COVID-19 pandemic. Making sure you find the time to make social connections with others is key to living a fulfilled life.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that you need to begin collecting friends like stamps in a stamp collection or like seashells at the beach! The key to experiencing the benefit of human connection is to build up meaningful friendships and relationships over time. Acquaintances, while a distraction from the loneliness that takes away from fulfillment, ultimately don’t serve to strengthen our sense of wellbeing more generally.
Only connections that have been built with care over time can create the feeling of connectedness that leads to a more fulfilling life. Friendships, romantic relationships, and relationships to close family members that have been nurtured in ways that are meaningful and imbued with trust, mutual understanding, and mutual respect are those that will structure feelings of warmth and connection over time.
If you find it difficult to reach out and connect to others – and don’t worry, many of us in this isolated digital age do! – try getting involved in activities in your local community. Most local towns and city neighborhoods have community or activity centers that host game nights, gardening sessions, book clubs, etc. Whatever you’re interested in, there is sure to be a group for that in your area!
Facebook and Google are also excellent resources for finding your tribe. Searching your local Facebook groups for things that interest you can lead you to attend some amazing events that will introduce you to people who you would never have run into on your own. Googling ‘Event’ alongside the name of your town, city, village, or area and a specific date will turn up the most incredibly interesting events!
Being fulfilled in life is mostly a matter of paying attention: paying attention to the world inside you, as well as the world outside you. Building a meaningful relationship with your own life, as well as with the lives of others, by looking after yourself and your world is sure to improve your feeling of fulfillment in no time.