The Two Forms of Fulfillment
The Oxford American Dictionary defines fulfillment as “the achievement of something desired, promised, or predicted,” and “satisfaction or happiness as a result of fulfilling or developing one’s abilities or character.” These definitions are both attainment-oriented— something you feel whenever you satisfy a want or desire or reach a goal. You first experienced this kind of fulfillment when you were a newborn entering into this world. Whatever you needed AND desired was provided to you in response to your cries. This kind of fulfillment continued, evolving into the elation you probably felt on Christmas morning waking up to presents under the tree, the pride of buying something you really wanted for the first time, the excitement of your first kiss, the thrill of receiving your first paycheck.
The pull to find happiness through this kind of fulfillment is never-ending and almost becomes a form of addiction as your desires evolve. The life of almost every human being is, for all intensive purposes, entirely influenced by these desires. They endure to the instant before your last breath, at which point the object of your desire will likely be another lifetime of breaths. Fulfillment through attainment, although temporary, is also preeminent, and perhaps that is why it is the only definition you’ll find in the dictionary.
Thankfully, there is another kind of fulfillment, one that the dictionary fails to include but which most spiritual traditions assert is critical to understand and ultimately learn in order to embody true happiness. This other type of fulfillment is not dependent on anything–it is based on a recognition, a shift in perception, a revelation. This kind of fulfillment is not dependent on circumstances being just right, nor is it derived from anything in the outside world. It comes from you! IT IS YOU!
This kind of fulfillment “is not inaccessible nor is it in distant places: it is what in oneself appears to be the experience of bliss, and is therefore realized in oneself.” This description from the Yoga Vasistha, one of the most comprehensive and esteemed of yogic scriptures, reveals everything you need to know about the kind of fulfillment not mentioned in the dictionary. This kind of fulfillment is usually hidden, masked by the world of things. In order to determine which kind of fulfillment is ruling your life, you must look inward and assess the world you have created around you. Once this self-assessment is complete, you’ll be able to determine which type of fulfillment you want to follow.
The first step in this self-assessment is to examine where you invest your time. A simple exercise to start with is creating a list of all of your activities. Take a moment to think about what your normal week looks like. Walk through your week minute-by-minute, hour-by-hour, day-by-day–what do you typically spend your time doing? As these activities come to mind, make sure to write EVERYTHING down. Whether it’s watching TV, driving, sleeping, working, scrolling through social media, etc., write it ALL down. Once you have these activities listed, begin to rank them 1-5 (1 being the LEAST important and 5 being the MOST important). Next, determine the level of fulfillment each activity holds on a scale of 1-10 (1 being not fulfilling and 10 being very fulfilling). If you notice activities that hold a fulfillment score of 5 or below, outline action steps that can be taken to incorporate more fulfillment in that aspect of your life.
The most important tool at our disposal for living a more fulfilling life is other people. The people we surround ourselves with have the biggest influence on our behavior, attitudes, and results. Who you are around and what those individuals inspire you to think, say, do, and become sets the course of your life. To quote motivational speaker Jim Rohn:
“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”
These people shape who you are. They determine what conversations dominate your attention. They affect that which you are regularly exposed to. Eventually you start to think like they think and behave like they behave. Darren Hardy shares that “according to research by social psychologist Dr. David McClelland of Harvard,
“The people you habitually associate with determine as much as 95 percent of your success or failure in life.”
That is an unbelievable amount of influence, and it has important consequences. It’s a fact of life that some people hold us back, while others propel us forward. It doesn’t make sense to hang out with negative people and expect to have a positive life. More importantly, if you do all the right things but don’t surround yourself with people who hold you to a higher standard, you are more likely to fail in your ambitions.
Another exercise to determine the fulfillment in your life is to analyze the people you spend your time with. Think of your normal week and list everyone you dedicate time to–these should be the people you put on your calendar, carve out space for, and intentionally take time to meet and connect with. Rank each contact on a scale of 1-5 (1 being the least important and 5 being the most important). It is important that you’re completely honest with yourself–this exercise is for your own assessment and for helping propel you forward to a life of fulfillment. Once you have ranked these contacts, determine their positivity score (how much positivity they bring to your life) on a scale of 1-10 (1 being pretty negative and 10 being very positive). If you notice a person’s positivity score is 7 or below, take some time to analyze how you can either improve how you see this person or, perhaps, reallocate time to someone that is more uplifting.
Now that you have both lists, it is up to you to decide how to map out a more fulfilling life for yourself. It can be difficult to be honest with yourself about where fulfillment falls short, however, noticing where there is a lack of fulfillment is the first step towards changing the narrative of your life. You are taking back control and ensuring that the “you” the world sees is the best version there is. Also, prioritizing your well-being and fulfillment continues to aid in the betterment of your relationship with yourself. It is, quite frankly, a win-win for everyone involved, but most importantly, yourself.