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  • Kirsti Gwynn

If You Want to Feel Fulfilled, Stop Looking for Happiness



A while ago on social media, I shared an article called Why You Should Never Have Gotten Kids (if You Want to be Happy, that is). In it, the author points out that while parents think having children will make them happier, research repeatedly shows that children actually cause a reduction in happiness.

As you read on, however, he makes a distinction between enjoying life and feeling fulfilled.

The time, resource, and personal sacrifices that come with having children might mean less daily joy, sure, but an invaluable benefit is the sense of meaning you’ll find in having a family of your own. And, as most will agree, that’s probably worth it.

This is the choice we find ourselves making throughout our lives, whether we realize it or not. Meaning or joy?

Studies show that those who engage in so-called “giving roles” such as volunteering or parenting have a higher sense of meaning, but also higher levels of stress and anxiety – they experience less joy.

It appears that living with purpose comes at a price.

Similarly, a life in pursuit of pleasure without meaning leaves us feeling without depth.

So does that mean we can’t have both meaning and joy?

On the contrary, I’d like to suggest that it’s wise to consider happiness in its many forms so that we can be considered in cultivating a life that’s happy in all senses of the word.

Prioritize Meaning

Feeling fulfilled means making a contribution. If we seek meaning, we need to ask ourselves, “What difference do I want to make?” or “How can make the world better in some way?” Performing acts of kindness can feel meaningful, as can being true to your values, or giving back in some way, be it to people, animals or the environment.

In essence, meaning is tapping into your “why”. Pursuing meaning means searching your soul to find the reason why you do whatever you do. I’d like to stress that this is something you can decide: your why is not outside of you.

You can make the choice whether the reason you work is to provide, to create, or to help, for example. All those reasons are sources of meaning and can make for a fulfilling life.

Then, Use Joy Enhance Your Life

Being content means prioritizing meaning – making it more important than joy. It means saying no to certain desires in the present moment and instead having the courage to choose the goals and values that mean the most to us long term.