“Is this all there is?”
That’s a question I ask myself whenever I feel like my life is missing something. When it’s not as full as I’d like it to be.
Maybe you’ve asked yourself this same question. See, feeling fulfilled in life isn’t a permanent state.
Because we’re constantly growing and evolving, and life is constantly changing, there will be times when we feel like our lives no longer fulfill us. Or rather, the current version of us.
That’s why it’s always worth pausing every now and then and asking ourselves the right questions.
Here are nine questions to ask yourself if you’re feeling unfulfilled in life. Hopefully, they’ll be enough to jumpstart your latest quest to get to the newer, better version of you.
1) What’s my definition of success?
Let’s start with a reevaluation of your metrics of success.
Society often equates success with wealth, status, or certain milestones. It says things like, “You should have your own home by 30,” or “You should be in an executive position after X years at your job.”
If you agree with that idea of success and you’ve based your goals on that, that’s all well and good.
But what if that’s no longer the case? What if you’ve grown in a different direction and that concept of success no longer rings true for you?
Take the case of the Minimalists Joshua Milburn and Ryan Nicodemus. For a while, they were at a good place in their careers. They were upwardly mobile and capable of sustaining a comfortable lifestyle.
But after some time, they felt empty and unfulfilled. This led them to a reexamination – and a complete 180 – of their lives in the pursuit of something more meaningful.
That’s the key word here – meaningful.
Whatever your definition of success is, it should be something that adds meaning to your life. That way, you’ll find a deeper and more authentic sense of fulfillment.
2) What truly makes me happy?
Closely connected to your definition of success is your definition of happiness.
Again, society can be a dictator here. We’re frequently bombarded with messages that if we have this or that, we will be happy.
The problem is, we’re vastly different individuals. What would make me happy might not do the same for you.
So take the time to sit and really think about what makes your heart happy. If you didn’t have to listen to anyone else, what would really bring you joy?
You might just be surprised at the simplicity of the answers you get. Then, be proactive about it. Don’t wait for joy to come to you; find it no matter where you are!
3) Am I living for myself or for others?
This is a little tricky to answer. Because on one hand, it’s only natural to want to make your loved ones proud and happy.
But on the other hand, are you making that your life’s mission?
Careful there…it’s a fine line between considering their happiness and living a life entirely for them.
For instance, I was once going to be a dentist. That was the path my parents had set out for me and I wanted to make them happy. Plus, I was young and didn’t exactly know what I wanted to be yet.
But – by the time I finished dental school, I’d figured out just how much I didn’t like it. I just couldn see myself being a dentist for the rest of my life.
On top of that, I had a part-time job as a tutor. Now that – that was something I truly enjoyed and found meaningful.
So, as much as I hated to disappoint my parents, once I became a dentist, I went back to school for a degree in early childhood education.
They weren’t pleased for sure, and my heart broke for all the sacrifices they made for me. But ultimately, I had to live my life on my own terms.
Which brings me to my next point…
4) Am I in the driver’s seat of my life?
Feeling unfulfilled often stems from a sense of not being in control.
When we merely go along with wherever life takes us, we can easily feel lost and unsatisfied. That’s pretty much how I felt in those years when I was slogging my way through dental school.
Research emphasizes the role of agency in life satisfaction. The more we feel in control of our lives, the greater our well-being is. It’s that simple.
Like I said, “on your own terms”.
Of course, it’s also a fact that you can’t control everything. But the parts that you can? You should.
Again, it’s all about being proactive. Don’t just wait for life to happen and then react. Make life – YOUR life – happen.
And to do that, ask yourself this next question…
5) Do I set boundaries?
That’s right, having a sense of agency means you’ll have to be assertive. Truth is, you might have the best-laid plans, but people won’t necessarily agree.
Your family might want you to do everything for them. Your boss and co-workers might expect you to be at their beck and call.
And if you don’t speak up for yourself, you’ll constantly feel drained and even disrespected.
I know that if I hadn’t spoken up to my parents and insisted on the career I wanted, I would still be sitting in a dental office today, feeling listless and unfulfilled.
So, know your limits. Know what’s unacceptable for you. Then communicate them respectfully to the people in your life. There might be some pushback, but if they really value you, they’ll eventually understand.
And if they don’t, well then, you’ll just have to decide if they’re truly people you want in your New Life Version 2.0.
Because the bottomline is, you have to take care of yourself to feel fulfilled.
6) Do I practice self-care regularly?
So simple, yet so forgettable.
Sometimes, our lives are already fulfilling, except that we’ve run ourselves ragged.
Sometimes all it takes is a little recharging. When you make a conscious effort to take care of yourself, everything else falls into place.
Your mind becomes clearer, you have a renewed sense of energy, and your days feel much lighter.
Aside from making sure you get enough exercise and nutritious food, tune into your soul. What does it long for? Carve out time in your schedule for activities that rejuvenate and refresh you.
For me, I absolutely need to have a 30-minute period after work to lie down and read. Or walk my dog. Or paint.
As I said earlier, whatever makes your heart happy. Whatever nourishes your soul. That’s always a wise form of self-care.
And you know what? When you do this, it’s easier to see the good stuff in your life…
7) What am I grateful for?
Gratitude – does it play a role in feeling fulfilled?
Of course! At the very least, it gives us a measure of contentment and a sense of hope. That no matter how empty we feel about our life in general, there’s always, always something to be thankful for.
Here are the ways gratitude can help us deal with that sense of unfulfillment:
- It can reframe our perspective. Gratitude helps shift our focus from lack to abundance. So, we might not have everything, but we do have a lot!
- It grounds us in the present. Finding joy in the here and now helps dispel those future-oriented thoughts like, “Is this all there is for me?”
- It helps us to be resilient. Because we can see the good in the bad, it’s easier to bounce back.
- It can even inspire positive actions like acts of kindness or moments of beauty. Which then adds a layer of meaning and fulfillment to your life, at least enough to keep you positive while waiting for the grand reveal of your new sense of purpose.
I hope you don’t think that gratitude is merely a way to deny or minimize those feelings of unfulfillment. It’s not a band-aid solution.
It’s actually a practice that enriches your life in countless ways.
8) Do I challenge myself enough?
Another way to enrich your life is to ask yourself if you’re growing. If you’re pushing yourself to new heights.
See, when you’ve stayed too long in your comfort zone, you might feel good for a while.
But if we’re talking about growth, “safe” is a dangerous word. Because it means you’re not learning anything new.
Whenever I feel unfulfilled, I think about what scares me and set about doing that.
It’s a conscious effort because of course, who likes feeling scared? Not me for sure. I don’t even watch horror films!
But I do know that fear (the healthy kind, not the one that protects us from predators and such) is a good gauge of what I should do next so I don’t get stuck in a rut.
As Ted Mosby said in How I Met Your Mother, “If you’re not scared, then you’re not taking a chance. If you’re not taking a chance, then what the hell are you doing anyway?”
Good question, Ted! As is this last one…
9) Am I holding onto past regrets or resentments?
Finally, be honest and look at the negative things you hold inside you. Chances are, they’re holding you back from moving forward. From being the best version of yourself.
Learning from the past is always wise, but then let those hurts and mistakes go. Take only the lessons and travel light.
Some hurts may be so deep that you might need some extra support. Consider seeking therapy or counseling if you just can’t get past certain events.
Whatever works for you, do it. Because every day is a new opportunity to start afresh and let go of what no longer serves you.