• Happiness, life satisfaction, and fulfillment are used interchangeably, but have very different meanings.
  • Every failure and bounce-back process leads one closer to fulfillment.
  • Fulfillment is a product of personal growth through trials and triumphs.

by Trevicia Williams, Ph.D.

Exit the road to happiness and discover that fulfillment is where it’s at.

Surviving a worldwide pandemic fueled massive changes in the way we live, work, and interact with each other. It also caused many to question their achievements and happiness.

With things moving again, hope is in the air. Dates are being set for weddings that were postponed due to COVID-19, theaters are filled with movie enthusiasts, interstate and international travel has resumed, and children have returned to face-to-face learning. People are smiling more and appear to be happy again.

However, are those experiences signs of true happiness? You may have thought about whether or not you’re truly happy and what it might take to experience the kind of happiness that you desire. In doing so, you’re likely to confuse happiness with fulfillment or life satisfaction.

Those terms are oftentimes used interchangeably. However, there is a difference. While everyone wants to be happy, most realize that it’s a temporary, in-the-moment type of experience. Of course, no one’s frowning about that. After all, enjoying moments in life is important to your well-being.

Alternatively, fulfillment is more enduring and invasive. It’s a state of being that is developed through trials and triumphs, overcoming failures, and bouncing back with a more well-defined character, a renewed sense of purpose, and the ability to serve in ways that help others.

A 75-year study about fulfillment conducted by Harvard shows that, above money and success, positive relationships are the key to being healthier and happier.

How to find fulfillment

Fulfillment is passionately living a life of purpose and an ongoing pursuit of things that matter. Here are three underappreciated routes to a path of purpose and fulfillment

1. Build strong relationships.

Healthy relationships are primarily built through effective communication. Some of the skills that are essential to relationship-building include A) Seek to understand then to be understood; B) Address the problem rather than targeting the person when trying to reach an understanding; C) Be a good listener (listening more than you speak helps the other person feel like you are genuinely interested in their perspective); and D) Pay attention to your body language (i.e., eyes, hands, facial expressions, etc.) while communicating. Research shows that 70 to 90 percent of communication, the cornerstone of strong relationships, is nonverbal or body language.

2. Appreciate failures.

They provide invaluable insight into what does and doesn’t work. Insight gives you the courage and confidence to take risks. Taking risks and eventually succeeding leads to achievements and provide you with a sense of satisfaction. Each failure and bounce-back process leads you to fulfillment.

3. Get involved with something greater than yourself.

Your focus is shifted from personal problems and any benefits that might be associated with the commitment to a grander view. Maybe your vision involves helping others. Fire is kindled to pursue what you have envisioned, and you begin to work on it. The outcome makes you feel proud and satisfied that you’ve made a difference, which contributes to your sense of fulfillment.

Face struggles and challenges with a sense of purpose. Struggles teach you valuable lessons that can’t otherwise be learned and develop the character that shapes the version of you that’s necessary for your next level of success. Whether it’s a lesson or an accomplishment, you always gain. Ultimately, fulfillment is a product of personal growth through trials and triumphs.

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