There are over two billion Google searches for “happiness” and over four billion for “I want to be happy.” You can decide what that means if it means anything. 

According to Merriam-Webster, happiness ranges from a state of well-being and contentment to a pleasurable or satisfying experience. No wonder there’s a relentless pursuit of happiness. It’s even written in the Declaration of Independence.  

Happiness is complicated because it means something different to everyone. And how can we know if the “thing” we’re pursuing will make us happy when we “catch” it?

People have had a lot to say about happiness through the centuries. And since it’s hard to find, is fleeting, or is difficult to sustain, people often disparage it. Perhaps it’s because we expect happiness to provide something that it lacks inherently. 

Happiness can be a range of feelings, from pleasure to the kind of security we assume that wealth and riches will provide. 

Could it be that we put the cart before the horse – that before we can feel happy, we need to experience something else first?

Yes. It’s called fulfillment. Fulfillment paves the way for happiness. We can have everything, and our lives can be amazing in every way, but if we’re not fulfilled we’ll never be happy.

Civil War: Happiness vs. Fulfillment

Feelings come and go. We like to experience bliss, joy, contentment, peace, security, and excitement. But if our emotional response, what we feel, is tied to an external event, happiness will be temporary.

If something “out there,” something external, makes us happy, then sooner or later, something “out there” will make us feel afraid, insecure, anxious, angry, or worried. 

If happiness is based on something we gain or achieve, what happens if/when we lose that thing? Or, worse yet, what if those greatly anticipated feelings of happiness wear off soon after the object of pursuit is within our grasp? What are we to do or pursue once our feelings of excitement over that shiny new car or big house wear off, or the big promotion isn’t as satisfying as we imagined?

If we need something to “be happy,” will we ever truly be happy? If we’re not enough without something, we’ll never be enough when we finally get it. 

One of the challenges is looking at other people who have more of the very things we dream of having; they seem so happy! So we do the math and believe that we’ll be happy once we have those things, too. But since when has comparing ourselves to other people ever been a good idea? People only show the “good” stuff they’re going through; the real story is usually hidden behind the splashy smiles 

The only person worthy of comparing yourself to is you. 

Fulfillment & Contentment

Before we go further, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with enjoying material possessions or success. 

But feelings of contentment and fulfillment happen when we invest our lives in what truly matters, like living to make the world a better place for others. When we organize our life around our core values, we experience fulfillment, which leads to feelings of peace, joy, contentment, and happiness.

Our core values, which are part of our inner world, drive and guide us, not the events and happenings of our external world. Our values empower us to take charge of our emotions, thoughts, plans, and desires. 

What’s happening to us daily isn’t nearly as important as what kind of person we’re becoming daily; the former is external, but the latter is internal.

It’s called having an internal locus of control, which creates personal strength, resilience, and feelings of empowerment.

Happiness is fleeting because we usually tie it to external circumstances that can change from moment to moment. 

Fulfillment and contentment are driven internally. You and you alone decide what matters most to you and why it’s important to invest your life in creating it, while experiencing deeper levels of fulfillment along the way.

Finding Fulfillment…

Let’s keep this section short for the purposes of this article. Contribution is the pathway to contentment and fulfillment. It’s giving your time, energy, and focus to that which truly matters and makes a difference. Avoid the shifting sands of the ever-fleeting feelings of happiness.

Here are some ways to find contentment and add meaning to your life.

Decide What Kind of Human You Want to Become

Socrates said to his students, “Know Thyself.” Knowing yourself is good, but it’s even better to decide what kind of human you want to become and then live your life to become that kind of person. 

Become a person of value and worth, someone who’s selfless, generous, and compassionate. And then live every day as if you’re already that person. 

Contentment and fulfillment aren’t about having more stuff so you can finally be happy. Satisfaction doesn’t come from a nicer car, popularity, or a bigger house, as nice as those things are. Fulfillment, happiness and contentment come from becoming more, which takes a bit of soul searching to figure out.

Help Others

Helping someone else to have a better life is one of the surest pathways to enjoying a life of fulfillment.

According to science, helping others triggers the release of ‘feel-good‘ hormones in our brains, such as dopamine and serotonin.

So, whether it’s helping a friend move or volunteering at the local soup kitchen, you’re bringing joy to other people, making their lives better in some small way. You’ll feel fulfilled and enjoy feelings of happiness as a result. 

Enjoy Social Connections

Create a social circle of positive, high-value, quality people who have an uplifting influence on you. Belonging to a healthy community fosters feelings of contentment and fulfillment. 

All too often today, people suffer from feelings of isolation and disconnection. Belonging to a healthy social community you can always talk to and who supports you is a source of encouragement and strength when you feel worried or stressed.  

Be Grateful

Use gratitude to stay focused on what’s going right with your life instead of what’s going wrong with it, and to stay connected to your purpose and the greater good. Gratitude also improves well-being and encourages positive emotions, fostering feelings of happiness and contentment. 

Gratitude keeps you focused on what you have. Even when having setbacks, you stay focused on blessings and opportunities. Gratitude reminds you that this is the beginning and keeps you from focusing on your losses. Practicing gratitude every day primes you for inspired action – action that’s organized around your core values. 

At the end of the day, if we need something to “finally be happy,” we’ll never really be happy when we “finally” get it. If you pursue fulfillment and contentment, you’ll experience feelings of happiness along the way. 

Photo by Denise Jones on Unsplash

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