At the end of a hard day’s work, ask yourself the question: am I spent from all that effort to earn money, or am I content because I’m making a living? We don’t just put in the hours each day to afford some additional comforts, save up for a nice retirement, or find other ways to feel happy. Those are reasons to work but not the reason to live. Everyone’s specific purpose may vary, but we all seek some form of overall fulfillment. Here’s a progression to help you towards that goal.
Cover the basic needs
Decades ago, the psychologist Abraham Maslow studied people across cultures and societies to find out what drives universal human behavior. His findings became known as the hierarchy of needs and are widely used today in efforts to motivate people and attain happiness. The bottom four levels of this hierarchy include survival, safety, belonging, and self-esteem; they are considered deficiency needs. When something goes missing, we feel anxiety and stress, which hampers progression towards greater fulfillment.
Hunger pangs, dealing with water leaks and cold at home, feeling isolated or rejected—these aren’t things you can ignore. Cover these basic needs. Eat regular and healthy meals, see to new roof installation for proper shelter, cultivate and enrich your relationships; only then will you feel secure enough to self-actualize and start working on the highest level of the hierarchy.
Exercise the power of choice
In modern times, the pattern of human life has become incredibly standardized. As children, we go through years of formal education, taking a series of tests to move on to each subsequent level, and finally, proceed to work and earn money. Ideally, it is in a career we’ve decided on while still in school.
Recognizing that you have other options besides following the accepted path is a step in the right direction. Be a dark horse; permit yourself to explore different ways in which you can pursue your interests, free from the influence of what other people think you should be doing. This way, you can exercise the power of choice and feel a greater sense of agency in your life. It will also help you build a career on the foundation of what you love to do.
Seek for meaning
A lot of people conflate happiness with fulfillment, but they aren’t always the same. They may overlap in a person’s life, but it’s also possible to have one without the other—a situation which many of us may find disappointing. To maximize your fulfillment in life, finding a greater sense of meaning is necessary. While it’s great to pursue progress in your career, earn enough money to stabilize your finances, and push development until you realize your potential, these are still individualistic pursuits.
Meaning comes from placing yourself within the right context. Strengthen the quality of connections and interactions with people around you and look for ways to help others. Engage in the practice of self-reflection and storytelling so that you can better grasp how the events of your life have shaped you and what purpose you might serve in the big picture.
These broad steps will provide a progression that you may follow in search of fulfillment throughout your life. Remember that everyone’s experience is different, and pay attention to the details as you move forward on this great journey.