I recently came across a journal I kept in my early thirties where I'd listed everything I thought I wanted in order to be happy and successful.
Most of the items were things — the kind of house I desired, the car I wanted, furniture and clothes I coveted. On some level, I believed having the trappings of a successful life would translate into creating the feelings of a happy life. Once I accumulated those things, I would have a fulfilling life.
My perspective at the time was flawed. I didn't realize how fleeting the satisfaction of attainment can be. I didn't anticipate the empty feeling that follows success or the slow awareness I was chasing an illusion. Those highly desirable things I was chasing weren't so fulfilling after all.
The joy of getting what you want dissipates quickly, leaving you with . . . what? Confusion. Restlessness. More longing.
Material things can be nice, and they are fun to accumulate — especially when they are part of a passion, hobby, or lifestyle you enjoy. But things and money and prestige don't provide the one thing every single one of us desires. Fulfillment.
We want our lives to be deeply satisfying and meaningful — not just at the end of our lives looking back, but at every step along the way.
Living a fulfilling life requires mindfully, carefully creating your hours and days to reflect our authentic selves.
Here are 25 essential ingredients on how to live a fulfilling life:
1. Loving Relationships
Having loving, supportive relationships including your spouse/partner, friends, family, and work associates is the most important ingredient for a fulfilling life. Many studies support this truth.
One of the most well-known studies is the Harvard Grant Study which followed men for 75 years, collecting data about their lives at regular intervals. Love and connection with others were found to be the pillars of a fulfilling life.
2. Happiness in Work
Finding your life passion through your work is ideal. But you at least need to be happy with your profession most of the time.
You need to feel your work is important and valuable, that you are capable and respected, and that you are regularly challenged and motivated by your job duties.You spend a huge chunk of your time at work.
If you aren't generally fulfilled in your work, it's nearly impossible to feel fulfilled in life.
3. A Sense of Purpose
Having a greater sense of purpose or meaning for your life gives all of your choices and actions context and direction.
Your life purpose evolves over time by living authentically, working passionately, and continuing to examine yourself, your deepest desires, and your intuitive urgings.
Find a way to use the knowledge you gather about yourself to make your life mean something and perhaps create a legacy that lives on.
4. A Healthy Lifestyle
If you aren't healthy and don't remain healthy as you age, it's hard to enjoy life — much less find it fulfilling.
You have to engage in life to be happy, and good health allows you to engage at an optimal level.
5. A Positive Mindset
Positive thinking isn't simply new age psychobabble. Consciously shifting your thoughts away from negativity and worry to more positive, grateful, and happy thoughts actually changes the neural pathways in your brain.
As you think, so you will begin to feel and believe. Positive thinking reduces stress, improves your relationships, and can increase your life span. By choosing positive thoughts, you are being a creator rather than a reactor to life.
6. Serving Others
Serving and helping other people — whether as a parent, a teacher, a helpful neighbor, a volunteer, or a community activist — provides a sense you are doing something greater than yourself and your own needs.
Service is especially fulfilling when you serve from a place of love or life passion. Be even the most mundane service can give you a sense of fulfillment and peace, knowing you've provided comfort, reduced suffering, inspired knowledge, or effected positive change.
7. Experiencing Now
All of life is experienced in the present moment. When you dwell in the past or focus too much in the future, you aren't truly living.
To experience life fully, you must remind yourself that right now is all you have. Make all of your “right nows” count by focusing on the task at hand or experience you are having.
8. Perspective About Challenges
Many of us view life challenges as negative, frustrating interruptions to the life we really want. We try to avoid difficulties by tip-toeing around life to avoid the land mines.
When we step on one, we're debilitate and view ourselves as unlucky. However, with a bit of time, perspective, and a shift in thinking, you'll see how challenges actually enhance your experience of life.
Challenges teach us, allow us to become more empathetic, humble, and fearless. Challenges will happen, so allow them to add to your experience of life rather than to diminish it.
9. Creative Expression
We all have creative abilities in our own areas of interest, and we need to express our creativity.
As creativity author and speaker Sir Ken Robinson reminds, “Creativity is a process of having original ideas that have value. A big part of being creative is looking for new ways of doing things within whatever activity you're involved in.”
Creativity involves challenging yourself to fulfill your potential, which in turn enhances all other experiences of life.
10. Knowing Your Values
To be fulfilled in life, you need to know what's most important to you.
What are your life priorities? Where do you want to spend your time and energy?
Take the time to define your most critical life values. Use these values as a benchmark for making decisions and choices. Here's a list of 400 values to help you.
11. Having A Vision
You can use these values to help create a vision for your life. When you proactively create your life based on your values, your interests, and your goals, you set the foundation for fulfillment.
Your vision doesn't have to be set in stone, but it does provide a roadmap and general direction to help narrow your choices based on what you want the most for yourself.
12. Appreciating Beauty
All beauty, whether its in nature, music, art, dance, or physical beauty, enlivens our spirits and elevates us beyond the mundane and ordinary.
It provides aesthetic pleasure and enhances our sensitivity to pattern and order on a very sophisticated level by increasing our perceptual skills.
13. Embracing Failure
Failure never feels good in the moment, but after an appropriate amount of grief and second-guessing yourself, you can learn to use failure to add to your fulfillment.
Failure is evidence of action and risk. It reminds you that you had the courage to try.
If you seek to learn from it, it opens you up to growth and learning to use in the future. Don't hide from your failures. Examine them and squeeze all of the knowledge you can from them.
14. Enjoying Aging
Most of us fear and dread getting older. We don't want to watch our bodies change. We don't want to experience a decline in our health. We fear the reminders of our mortality.
But studies has shown those who enjoy getting older and focus on all of the positives of the second half of life tend to live longer. This is part of a positive mindset.
Without all of the demands and responsibilities of your younger years, your older years can be your most fulfilling.
15. Releasing The Past
When we dwell in the pain from the past or constantly reminisce about our glory days, we cut ourselves off from experiencing the present moment.
If your past is causing you pain, seek professional support to help you resolve the pain and let it go. Remember, the only reality is the present moment.
16. Showing Kindness
Being kind is such a simple act, but it is so powerful. We have a choice in every interaction or encounter to offer kindness or something less than kindness.
As you practice kindness, especially in relationships that are challenging, watch how your behavior transforms the connection. Watch how that transformation fulfills you.
17. Focusing on Gratitude
Happiness researcher and author Sonja Lyubomirsky has spent years uncovering what makes people happiness.
Her research confirms grateful thinking fosters happiness. According to Lyubomirsky, it “promotes the savoring of positive life experiences,” as well as bolsters self-esteem, helps people cope with stress, strengthens relationships, and encourages positive behaviors.
18. Taking Some Risks
When you grow more comfortable with the possibility of failure, you are better able to take calculated risks.
It is through risk that we make the biggest leaps, open ourselves to the most life-altering opportunities, and dare ourselves to be more than we once thought we could be.
Shift your mindset about risks to see them as exhilarating rather than paralyzing. Those who are most fulfilled in life are those who dare themselves to take a leap of faith.
19. Seeking Personal Growth
Life is about continual learning and inner growth. Constantly seek self-awareness. Challenge your ideas and beliefs. Adopt a learner's mind and remain open to various possibilities.
Don't limit yourself by saying, “I don't need self-help. I'm happy enough.” Push the boundaries of your life, and find out the infinite opportunities that await you.
20. Practicing Authenticity
You can't enjoy a fulfilling life if you are pretending to be someone you're not. You can't live creatively if you don't recognize yourself or if you've made the choice to live according to who you think you should be rather than who you are.
If you see yourself in this description, begin a pilgrimage to find your true self. Step out of the roles that have defined you in the past.
“Our real identity, says Jonathan Wells of Advanced Life Skills, “is defined by our core beliefs, values, passions, and motives, and expresses itself through our courageousness, openness, and personal power.”
21. Simplifying Everything
When your life is simple, you have time, space, and energy to enjoy what you value most.
A cluttered life drains us, and pulls us away from what truly matters. Simplify everything — your home, your schedule, your commitments, and your tasks.
Scale back to the essential. Life is too short to clutter it with things and activities that don't serve our values, vision, and purpose.
22. Living with Integrity
Define your own integrity. How do you see good and bad, right and wrong, uplifting or demoralizing?
What are your internal boundaries? Where do you draw the line? Once you know that, live by it.
Anything less will drag you down and undermine any fulfillment you enjoy in other areas of your life.
23. Accepting Others
Learn to release the desire to change other people so they are more like you. Accept them as they are.
Enjoy the differences and the unique qualities of everyone in your life, even if you choose a different way.
Letting go of this need will lighten your heart and foster deeper connections with those around you.
24. Offering Forgiveness
When you forgive, you are liberated. You no longer harbor the heavy load of anger and resentment.
Forgiveness frees you to enjoy fulfillment, because you are no longer tethered to the pain of the offense or the person who offended.
25. Creating New Habits and Skills
Challenge yourself to learn new positive habits and to achieve bigger goals.
Learn the skills of habit creation so you can make positive change in your life for the rest of your life.
When you know how to stick to your resolutions and follow through on your goals, you expand your experiences, relationships, and quality of life.
What makes for a fulfilling life for you? How have you transformed your life so you feel deeply engaged and gratified? Please share your experiences in the comments below.