5 Pillars of Fulfillment
How do we define fulfillment? I think it’s safe to say that most people would like to live rich, fulfilled lives. Most of us seek out happiness in some capacity every day. We may do this through relationships, hobbies, eating, spending, or in some other capacity, but we are all trying to be happy for the most part.
I am no different in that regard. Who wouldn’t want to be happier? Over the past few years, I have been able to find things that truly make me happy and fulfilled. I call these my Pillars of Fulfillment. Right now, there are five of them, but that can change as I try new things. Knowing what I know now, none of my five pillars has anything to do with “stuff.” A few years ago, I may have listed my house, car, or other material items as my pillars, which is OK if that is what you really value. I have learned that I do not value “things” as much as I value the 5 Pillars listed below.
I don’t think I even knew what mindfulness was 5 years ago. If I heard someone talking about it, I would have probably just dismissed them as a hippie or something like that. My kids sometimes tell me I am one. That’s why I think my reaction would have been the same. Although I have only been meditating for a year or two now, I became more mindful a few years before.
For me, mindfulness and living a more intentional life are the same. I think of both as approaching life with thought and a plan. So what is it? My definition is to be fully aware of every decision you make and the feeling you have, no matter how small. Everything we think or do illicit a reaction from ourselves and others, so I try to be aware of those reactions at the moment. By processing those individual reactions, I can filter out the actions and decisions that don’t make me and the people around me happy and, in turn, create a more fulfilled life for myself and those closest to me.
I have always loved to learn. We are born learners. Just look at the curiosity of a newborn child as they explore their world for the first time. It is in our nature to learn. But just as we get to our peak ability to really learn new things, our education system beats the curiosity and love of learning out of us. It is not the fault of the teachers, but it is the system we have created. Our education system promotes grading over real learning, and our kids live in fear of grades, G.P.A., and standardized tests as a means to validate if they are good enough. They quickly adapt how they learn to succeed in those areas while at the same time having a love of learning squashed out of them. Many even just quit and reject learning altogether. It is unfortunate.
The same thing happened to me at some point. I always loved to learn, but the stress of succeeding made it feel more like work than a passion. I did what I had to do to achieve my educational and career goals, but I did not love it. In recent years that has changed. The internet has opened a world of learning to all of us. You can learn just about anything you want for free or for a low cost. Many people now learn skills online that allow them to get high-paying jobs without ever attending college. Our system of learning is changing, and I couldn’t be more excited.
You can learn anything for free if you want to!
Over the past few years, I have used the resources available to me online to learn home repair, car repair, website building, coding, audio/video editing, podcasting, and much more. I use YouTube and Udemy mainly. My older son is in high school, and I have been able to help him with his math, Spanish, chemistry, and biology this year by relearning the information to then teach him. For this, I have used Khan Academy and a few Apps on my phone. My love of learning has returned and makes me feel fulfilled every time I learn something new. I am now trying to pass this passion for knowledge on to my kids to love to learn and not learn for grades.
A healthy mind created through mindfulness and meditation needs a healthy body to complement it. I learned this the hard way. A few years ago, I was 270 pounds (I am 6’4″), and I was miserable. Every day was worse than the last. I lived with headaches, GI issues (I don’t want to be too graphic), fatigue, and irritability daily. Everything hurt, and I lacked the motivation to do anything. A pattern like this feeds itself (pun intended). I was on a path leading to a short, miserable life, and when I finally hit bottom, I started to change.
The change for me started in 2016 and continues today. I have lost 70 pounds from my highest weight. For the most part, all of the negative things I was experiencing (headaches, etc…) are now gone. My energy is way up, and my passion for living a fulfilled life has never been higher. I have the motivation to live each day looking for new things to learn and experience. Exercise and better eating have just become part of the story of who I am now. It amazes me how many people now ask my advice about health and nutrition, which would never have happened in 2016! For me, I would never be able to experience fulfillment without a healthy body.
This one is actually tough for me. I am, by nature, an introvert. Most people would not think that about me. I work in healthcare, I talk a lot, and when I am out somewhere, I will often demand a good amount of attention. However, I prefer to be at home with minimal to no socializing except with a small group of people.
For many years, I believed that I did not need relationships outside of my immediate family. Well, I was wrong. In the past few years, I have made a deliberate attempt to open my life to more people. I still keep it relatively small, but I have found happiness and fulfillment in having people that share similar values close to me. This has made a surprising difference in my life, one for which I am grateful. As an aside, I am also quick to say no to relationships that bring me stress and/or negativity.
There is nothing that fulfills me more than time with my family. My wife, kids, and I are blessed to have each other and a supportive and loving immediate family around us. They are truly who we spend the most time with and bring us all the most joy and happiness. Without my family, the other pillars mentioned here would be more likely to collapse.
My final pillar is Financial Independence. No, money does not make me happy. But, the freedom that is not having to worry about money does. My wife and I have worked really hard to put ourselves in a position to have choices and freedom. The peace of mind that comes with that is an amazing feeling. Each day we have more control over our time, and we have very little to no worry about bills. This was something we worked for and was not handed to us. We haven’t won the lottery or inherited any money. Through years of hard work, discipline, and tough choices, we have put ourselves in this position.
Being free from the stress of money gives me a sense of fulfillment. It is a compliment to the 4 pillars before it. Without controlling my money, I don’t think I could be as successful in the other aspects of my life. Over the next decade (or less!), my wife and I will have gained total control of our time and lives, and I am excited to see what that part of our life entails.
Fulfillment is tough to define, and the definition is different for everyone. I have put a lot of thought into the five I listed here, and I know that they will change over time as they already have. There is not just one answer to what makes a happy and fulfilled life, and the search really never ends.
The 6th pillar is one that I am still working on, and that pillar is gratitude. As I gather my thoughts around gratitude, I will write a separate post about it. But I will say that I am quickly learning that I feel happy more of the time by being grateful for what I have.
What are your pillars of fulfillment? Please leave your thoughts in the comment section below.