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Why Do I Feel So Unfulfilled When I Have So Much?

Many members of the bar throughout our country struggle with the question of fulfillment. On one level, as attorneys we enjoy a privileged place in society with opportunities, corresponding responsibilities and incomes greater than the average. On another, many members of our profession experience a continuing lack of fulfillment and happiness in their work. Is it us or the world around us that makes this so?

We live in a society that preaches and sells a model of life based upon happiness. Happiness, a turbo-charged state of life enjoyment, has become a largely commercialized concept that encourages people to consume consistently. We seek the perfect body type, the ideal home, the latest technological advance because doing so offers the possibility of an enhanced life state.

For many, life in this Happiness Society takes place against financial and physical wealth never before seen in the history of mankind. Individual and societal wealth has increased dramatically over the past 50 years. In the United States, for example, real per capita income doubled between 1970 and 2000.

And, yet, large numbers of us fail to feel fulfilled by life in this happiness-based society. Public opinion polls conducted over time reveal that happiness has declined generally over time and that Americans are generally less happy now than they were in 1950. Other polls demonstrate that even within a society, greater incomes do not mean greater happiness.

Why? Because of the pursuit of heightened state of life pleasure that we call Happiness creates a treadmill which many find impossible to escape. There is always something better than the present thing. And, having purchased this latest Next Great Thing our lifestyle adjusts to new levels of comfort. While we continue to feel less than fulfilled, society creates a newer, better Next Great Thing. Proceeding along with the societal flow, we thoughtlessly reset our sights on that new purchase with renewed (but unjustified) hope that fulfillment will follow.

Economists identify this endless process of searching for fulfillment consistent acquisition as the “Hedonic Treadmill.” Highlighted by research conducted by Professor Richard Easterlin at the University of Southern California, the Hedonic Treadmill exists because our material desires adjust to match newly acquired wealth. We quickly grow used to new levels of comfort and material consumption, rendering them meaningless to us. As the name implies, life on the Hedonic Treadmill leaves us constantly acquiring, going nowhere and feeling unfulfilled.

Life on the Hedonic Treadmill leaves us unfulfilled because it does not address the three consistent challenges to contentment: constant change, competing priorities for our time, and financial uncertainty. Constant change presents evolving views of our present and our future which challenge our view of what is important. We ask: What is important to me?

We face many competing priorities for the use of our time and the expectation to produce more in less. We ask: How should I be spending my time? Financial uncertainty presented by job worries, market ups and downs and uncertainty about our life in retirement, drive us to greater levels of concern about both our present financial lives and our long-term financial future. We ask: How should I be dealing with money?

The lack of answers provided by life on the Hedonic Treadmill leaves us vulnerable to suggestion, manipulation and misdirection. Many today feel this lack of direction in symptoms ranging from constant, low-level anxiety to a desire to escape to a completely different life. It is no surprise that the lack of fulfillment in our collective lives on the Hedonic Treadmill has produced record levels of depression, obesity and personal bankruptcy.

So, at least at the outset, one can say that society, if not to blame, certainly creates conditions that are ripe for our personal lack of fulfillment to exist. At the same time, as I’ll discuss below, because the solution rests in us, we are responsible for our own failure to feel a continuing sense of contentment in life.

The cure to the distress of life on the Hedonic Treadmill lies in stepping off the treadmill by rejecting society’s happiness model and creating a path that defines our unique, personal direction. In fact, one might argue that living our lives by moving forward on the path defined by the important things in our lives represents a purpose common to each of us. That is not to say that we all must lead identical lives, but, rather, each of us must define what is important to us to create our own path. As such, there are many different paths, but our common purpose remains the same: to live along the path defined by the important.

Defining your own path requires you to determine those relationships, responsibilities and activities that are the most important in your life. There are many ways to begin the process. (At the Wyoming State Bar Annual Meeting & Judicial Conference in Gillette last year, I presented a series of worksheets and exercises designed to help delineate the most important elements in your life. Copies of these are available from the Bar and may help as a starting point.) The goal in creating a path is to enable you to develop a written statement of the path on which you want your life to proceed. Here’s mine as an example:

I live my life as a person of faith with a giving and compassionate spirit. I am a loving husband, father, son, brother and friend. I help people solve problems they cannot solve themselves and teach them to live their lives more fully.

You can see that my path was developed in light of my personal religious beliefs. Your beliefs will influence whether your path has either an end or a destination. If you believe in God and a life after this one, your path culminates in the creation of your after-life. If you do not believe in a life after this one, your path comes to an end. And, therefore, life’s accomplishments and milestones become more critical.

Regardless of your religious or spiritual mindset, once having established the path, your decisions each day determine your sense of movement along your path. Creation of the path means that you know what is important to you. As the world changes around you, you are stalwart in knowing that you know what matters to you even if society tells you otherwise.

Having a path allows you to make decisions about how to spend your time: if you truly believe in what is important to you, you will make decisions about the use of time that eliminate the competition among priorities. You can use your path to help you make decisions about money. You come to see that money is not the end point of life and, instead, you make decisions about lifestyle, accumulation and retirement in light of your personal priorities rather than what the Happiness Society says you need.

In sum, you trade financial security for the constant, acquisitive insecurity that fuels the Hedonic Treadmill. In sum, then, use of your path answers the three questions outlined above that permeate the Happiness Society.

I’ve tried to cover a lot of ground relatively quickly. A single quote from Friedrich Nietzsche reiterates my main premise.

Formula of my happiness: a Yes, a No, a straight line, a goal.

In the end, society creates an environment hostile to finding what is important to you. Your role in creating personal fulfillment is to take responsibility and find your own path. Take the time today to begin creating a written statement of your path. Use it to govern your relationships with time and money. Step off the Happiness Treadmill and into an engaged state of living in which each moment of your day connects to what you know to be important to you. You’ll be a better lawyer and, more importantly, a better person!



John E. Moore is the managing partner of the Vero Beach, Florida law firm Rossway Moore & Taylor, where he maintains an active estate planning practice. He is also an actively licensed CPA. Moore received his undergraduate degree from Notre Dame and his law degree from the University of Virginia. His experience profile includes tenure with Arthur Andersen LLP and service as an official of the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development and the Government National Mortgage Association and time in private practice with a large firm in Washington, D.C.


Copyright 2005 – Wyoming State Bar

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14 steps: Know yourself
by Irma on Newsvine!
 

Know yourself

In order to create a life that suits you, it's important to know what's really important to you. Find out what your passions, interests and preferences are. These are called 'personal values'. Friendship can be very important, but also children, money, power or justice.

There are hundreds of personal values, and thousands of things one can find important. Some personal values are like a silken red thread throughout life. The importance of certain values can change over time. Young people value having fun a lot, young parents consider family life to be most important, and perhaps spirituality becomes more important when getting older.

Most people know more or less what they consider to be important in life, but they find it hard to put this to words. It's worthwile trying though, since you need to know exactly what your personal values are, in order to arrange your life in the most optimal way.

What do you want?

Some people know exactly what they find important. But this isn't the case for everyone. Perhaps the things you once thought were important, are no longer fitting. People that still pursue the things they wanted when they were twenty, often get stuck at fourty. There also are a lot of people that think they know what they want, while actually it doesn't make them happy.

Do you think you like to help others? Ask yourself whether you're actually helping others because it really interests you. Many people are afraid of being rejected, if they're not helping others. Let me give you another example: does your career really satisfy you, or do you think negatively about yourself, and do you want to prove yourself?

People that let their fears and frustrations lead them, are constantly trying to close a hole in their hearts. It's like carrying water to the sea: it's useless, it's never enough and it continues forever. It doesn't make you happy, at the most it prevents you from being unhappy.

Fears and frustrations, like fog, can cover your real personal values. They mask what really interests you and makes you happy. Choose authentic values. Authentic values give energy and a genuine feeling of happiness and satisfaction.

No fear

To be happy, you need to discover your authentic personal values. What do you find attractive, fascinating and important in your heart? You'll have to recognize and accept possible fears and frustrations. Some of those stem from one's youth. Many parents couldn't satisfy their child's need for attention, emotional security, love, comfort or help. Didn't you get what you emotionally needed in your youth? Take a good look at yourself, and accept this.

You won't be feeling any better by pursuing a career, or always helping others. Only when you recognize and accept this, you can to what is most fitting for you, and become truly happy.

Almost everyone has certain fears and limitations. Some are afraid they won't be able to deal with something, some think they lack determination, others have health concerns, are low on energy and always feel tired. Because of these kind of things, perhaps you don't see clearly what you'd like to do most of all, and do you limit yourself to things that don't really matter.

Physical or mental limitations are of course annoying, but many people give up too easily, they think they won't succeed anyway. The consequence is they don't take up the challenge, held back by fears that aren't real. Try to determine how real your fears really are. Aren't you exaggerating? What is the worst that could happen. Does the world fall apart, or isn't it as bad after all? Think about what you could do if things do go wrong. This way, your fears will diminish, and you'll dare to do what your really want.

Discover your personal values

In the past as well as in the future there are clues to your personal values.

Think about the moments in your life when everything felt just right. Try to picture these moments. Where were you, with whom, what were you doing?

Do these moments have something in common? Do they share certain values? These might very well be your personal values, the silver red thread throughout your life.

Imagine yourself at your eightieth birthday. Family members or friend have organized a party for you, to show you how much they love you. Each person is telling something about your life.

What would you like them to tell? How would you have people look at you? How do you want to be remembered? Would you like to be able to say you've seen a lot of the world? Would you like to have written a book? Would you like to be remembered for your help of handicapped people?

Make a top 5 of your personal values, the most important one at the top.

Examples of personal values

variation, helping others, balance, satisfaction, creativity, expertise, honesty, recognition, equality, money, ease of mind, health, harmony, intellectual challenge, knowledge, art, love, power, environment, music, independance, prestige, relationships, beauty, spirituality, sport, status, challenge, peace, friendship, liberty, security, self expression, self realization, ...

Needs

To be happy, it’s necessary to give yourself what you need. To be able to do that, you first have to know what it is you need. Needs are different from personal values. Personal values refer to areas of life, areas that interest you, areas you’re passionate about. Things you need in order to feel good about yourself, to be yourself, are your needs. Those things can be both small and large. Possibly you need attention, love, flexible work hours, more time with your partner, a ham and cheese sandwich or a hot bath.

Sometimes it’s perfectly clear what you need, and it’s quite simple to give yourself what you need. When you are hungry, you make a sandwich or something else. It’s possible you feel lonely because you don’t have a partner. In that case you’ll have to find yourself a new love. Sometimes it’s not so clear what you need. You feel unfulfilled but you don’t know why. You’ve got everything you ever dreamt about 20 years ago: a beautiful house, a family, enough money … and yet still you feel restless and unsatisfied.

Unfulfilled needs

The theory by psychologist Abraham Maslow, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, can help you discover what it is you need. Maslow's hierarchy of needs is often depicted as a pyramid consisting of five levels: the four lower levels are grouped together as deficiency needs associated with physiological needs, while the top level is termed growth needs associated with psychological needs. Deficiency needs must be met first. Once these are met, seeking to satisfy growth needs drives personal growth. The higher needs in this hierarchy only come into focus when the lower needs in the pyramid are satisfied.

The bottom of the pyramid consists of physiological basic needs, like shelter, food, and warmth. You don’t feel anything when these needs are met, but if they aren’t, you’ll feel anxious. If you are hungry or thirsty or your body is chemically unbalanced, all of your energies turn toward remedying these deficiencies, and other needs remain inactive. When you are really hungry and terribly cold, you won’t enjoy listening to music, or looking at art. Instead you first want to eat and put on some extra clothes. If some needs are not fulfilled, a human's physiological needs take the highest priority. Physiological needs can control thoughts and behaviours, and can cause people to feel sickness, pain, and discomfort.

Safety needs are one step higher up the pyramid. After physiological and safety needs are fulfilled, the third layer of human needs is social. Humans need to feel a sense of belonging and acceptance. They need to love and be loved. All humans have a need to be respected, to have self-esteem, self-respect, and to respect others (fourth layer).

They upper three layers are growth needs, enduring motivations or drivers of behaviour. These are cognitive needs, aesthetic needs and the need for self-actualization. In Maslow's scheme, the final stage of psychological development comes when the individual feels assured that his physiological, security, affiliation and affection, self-respect, and recognition needs have been satisfied. As these become dormant, he becomes filled with a desire to realize all of his potential for being an effective, creative, mature human being.

Maslow's need hierarchy is set forth as a general proposition and does not imply that everyone's needs follow the same rigid pattern. However, his theory is highly informative. It can help you trace unfulfilled needs. If you encounter the same problems in love, over and over again, it’s possible you haven’t met the underlying need of safety. You may have an alarm system in check, but perhaps you don’t feel safe emotionally. Perhaps you feel others can’t be trusted, and you can’t leave your guard down. This feeling of unsafety makes it hard to allow yourself to be vulnerable in a relationship, and can lead to a fear of abandonment. In order to get what you need out of a relationship, you will first have to (re)find a feeling of safety.

The same is true for other layers of needs. If you notice it’s impossible to be successful or get recognition in your field of expertise, perhaps you didn’t fulfil some underlying need. Perhaps you don’t have a sense of belonging, and you feel lonely. Perhaps you don’t seem to be able to connect with colleagues at work, and don’t use your full networking potential.

Recognize your needs

If you aren’t in touch with yourself, it’s possible you don’t recognize your needs. It happens to everyone to some extent. When you e.g. are highly concentrated, you might not notice you need to go to the bathroom, or might ignore the feeling, until it’s (almost) too late.

Some people ignore other needs, especially needs they think aren’t socially acceptable. If you were told that crying is a sign of weakness, you possibly push away your tears, swallow your tears. If you were told sex is dirty, it’s difficult to recognize you need sex.

Pushing aside your needs is unhealthy. It makes you feel frustrated and unfulfilled. Many needs can’t be pushed aside for long either. They’ll find a way out, and can manifest themselves in annoying ways. It’s even possible you’ll get depressed and develop all kinds of psychosomatic symptoms.

An example is the burn-out. People that are experiencing a burn-out have worked hard, but were at the same time ignoring other needs, the need for rest, relaxation, healthy food, … At a certain point body and mind can’t continue to work until those needs are met. Unfortunately the situation by then has gotten real bad; people have crossed their boundaries so far, that it takes a very long time before they can feel healthy and happy again.

Determine and write down your needs

Determining your needs requires you to have an honest and accepting look at yourself, without judging your needs. What is it you really need? What’s stopping you from satisfying your needs? Is there a voice in your head telling you it’s wrong, or are you afraid of what other people might think? How can you give yourself what you really need? Write down the three most unfulfilled needs. What do you long for that you haven’t got?

Not all needs are equally realistic and not all needs can be totally met. If you e.g. need comfort and luxury, but you don’t make a lot of money, it’s not a very realistic need. There’s no use to dwell upon this, as it will only frustrate you. Do you have everything you’ve always wanted, the house, car, family, career … then perhaps it’s important to learn to appreciate the small things in life.

Instead of constantly wishing for a better life, take up the challenge to enjoy what is, the here and now. How to do that will be explained later on.

Woman feels unfulfilled with boyfriend

Q: I'm currently a receptionist, but I got my college degree last summer. My boyfriend and I have been together for more than three years and he says he wants to get married next July. But, as much as I think I love him, I feel so unfulfilled. I want to be a news anchor one day, but I will need to move away to make a decent salary. I think I have just settled for a comfortable job because my dream job doesn't include my boyfriend. What should I do?

A: You have to make a decision between what you want now and what you want later.

It sounds to me like you are not ready to commit yourself to your boyfriend and, if he is saying he wants to get married next year knowing your desire to leave and pursue a journalism career, he may not be ready to fully commit to you.

The brutal truth is that, without a ring on your finger, you do not owe any loyalty to your boyfriend. Here is the part that women too often forget, though; he also does not owe any loyalty to YOU.

If you forgo your career in favor of a possible proposal and that proposal does not come, what will you do then? It is important that you consider this possibility.

Men sometimes have a habit of leading a good woman on until they are ready to make a decision. This is unfair to her and, if you happen to be that woman, it would be unfair to you.

Allow me to focus on something else for a moment. You mentioned that you feel unfulfilled by your relationship. After spending three years of your life with him, if you feel unfulfilled now, what makes you think that you will suddenly become fulfilled within the covenant of marriage?

If the person you are with does not make you a better person by being with them, what is the point? Not only can you do bad by yourself, but you can be average by yourself, too.

A relationship should be improving you, pushing you to higher heights, greater accomplishments, and true self-fulfillment.

Furthermore, you said you "think'' you love him. If this is true, you are compromising your dreams for someone who you are not even sure you love!

I encourage you to sit down and think about what it is you want in your life right now. Many a woman has settled for a mediocre man instead of pursuing her dream, only to become resentful and bitter later on.

This is your time to evaluate what you want out of your life and your relationship. If he cannot offer what you want in both areas, or if you have to compromise your happiness to secure his, BEWARE.

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I've got to say that I just love this guy, Ayal! Check out his website sometime - he's got some good stuff there! www.trans4mind.com

"I am feeling unfulfilled, and unsupported in my partnership"

Hello Ayal,

I recently have come to an awareness about my partner in our marriage. This is that he is not the partner whom I had hoped would develop in time. When I let go of the 'expectation' it also feels like it's time to let go of the relationship. I realize when I made the commitment I was choosing someone with similar characteristics as my father and mother.

I recognize the emotional and physical unavailability that was present when I was a child replayed itself again in this relationship. My heart feels torn in two because I don't want to adjust my environment from the external to make me feel better inside or about myself and at the same time I recognize the energy of creativity and God within. This part of me wants to express itself in a relationship where it is received AND given.

I am finding it more and more difficult to relate to my current partner when there is a wall of unresolved grief and pain that surrounds him and prevents us from experiencing intimacy at the level my soul reaches out to. I know my healing is not complete by any means but I have focused on healing many aspects of myself and continue to inner track my hurts, pains and discomforts.

I am feeling unfulfilled, and unsupported in the partnership. We have been in counseling off and on. Its beginning to feel like he is "forcing" himself to change in ways that are not conducive to 'his' own process. I really feel like there is a huge turning point at the soul level within myself. My question is - I would like to know more about my 'contract' with my current partner.

Thank You.

Hi - well, as with any partnership or intimate, intense relationship, there is a lot going on that two people come in to learn from one another. 2 things are showing up for you right away that you are learning via this partnership:

  1. To develop clear insight which allows you to integrate all differences.

  2. To love and accept yourself at every age - to know that each moment in life is perfect. This has a lot to do with social beliefs and old thinking - that where a person is at isn't ok - that one should do or be "better", that life isn't safe in the moment, etc. So this has to do with your own fear of being your true self.... and rejecting the NOW.

If you can love and accept yourself at every age, then you can love and accept others at whatever age they are at - at every stage, every moment along their process.

You said earlier in your letter that: " he is not the partner whom I had hoped would develop in time." Well, that means that you began the relationship from a place of non acceptance to start with - seeing him as not ok where he was and wanting him to be something else - like always wanting the moment that is to be different. So, how perfect is it that having this issue is perfect for you, because that is what your soul has chosen to explore in this life?

It's perfect also that you are where you are with it, in this very moment. Right? If you can see it this way, then that is being in the Now - being at Peace and seeing the perfection in all that is... and this seems to be the main issue you came in to develop in yourself: acceptance. You are about at 30% in terms of developing this quality in yourself. That may be why you are experiencing distress.

If you have not yet developed a high level of being able to accept the moment as the perfection it is, you will be stressed out, discontent, and not at peace within yourself. It's like putting on "Nothing is ok and it's all WRONG" glasses, and then looking out at the world through them. You know how that feels, right?

Like you're standing on quicksand. But what you're really feeling deep inside is that YOU are "wrong" or not OK, and what happens then is that you will project that sense of things "being wrong' onto everything and everyone else. Right?

What would it feel like to put on glasses that saw all the beauty and perfection in the world - that saw the infinite journey we are all on? What would it feel like if you saw with infinite eyes that knew that it's all about taking the wisdom and richness out of every experience, every moment you have, and integrating that knowledge into your being, like squeezing a delicious drop of sparkling dew from a plant leaf into your mouth and savoring it. How would THAT feel?

And then you move on to the next moment to do the same thing with it. If you can see life this way, from infinite abundance rather then from lack, from the richness of every moment you are in, no matter what it is, WITHOUT MAKING IT WRONG OR HAVING AN expectation OF WHAT IT 'SHOULD' BE - then every time you look at your partner, you would see the incredible journey his soul is on - you'd see what he is doing that is purely miraculous as he goes about living his life.

Even if his journey looks different from your own. Life is made up of an infinite variety of things and moments - and life embraces them all - all of it makes life what it is. Nothing is rejected, true? Life isn't made to just feel or look one way - everyone's journey is a unique, amazing thing, with its own timing and choices and synchronicities and connectedness to life.

See #1 above: the ability to develop clear insight which allows you to integrate all differences. There it is. Then you embrace life - and yourself - in all its infinite bigness and many different, conflicting things to be integrated and digested, and you embrace the journey along the way that does all of that.

Right now you are needing your partner to be a certain way to fill up YOUR life and give you the feelings and experiences YOU value and like to feel. It's not up to him to do that. It's up to YOU to value those things and give them to yourself, to experience them and love them and claim them as your own, to connect to them and manifest them in the world.

Then you HAVE them, you ARE yourself, filled up with yourself and what you love, and no one else has to try to give it to you. If you don't believe that you can have that kind of affinity and loveliness and harmony, then YOU will create your life not having what you desire. You must first have that harmony within yourself to have it manifest for you in your external life and relationships.

You must let go of any part of you that sees yourself as lacking or not able to feel or experience or have what feels good to you: which means accepting yourself and your beauty and what you desire - accepting it as being 100% good and wonderful. You have to be like a tree standing in the rain with branches and leaves open wide to accept the bounty of life, and then use that bounty to grow more branches and more beautiful leaves - and then just delight in that beauty being a part of the world for all to enjoy.

All that you can do is do what feels right to you, and live your own journey with gusto and passion and delight and not let anyone else dictate to you what your journey or desires or path "should" be. If you let others do that, chances are that YOU do that to others as well - i.e., your partner - wanting him to change, not accepting him, wanting him to be what you are actually wanting YOURSELF to be.

If you see him as sorrowful and dislike that, then that is not healed within yourself, and you see it in him and are uncomfortable - wanting him to "GET OUT OF IT!" But, it's your own pain you are uncomfortable with. Embrace it. Be patient and kind to yourself. Let it be what it is. Just observe it without judgment, and it will pass, as all things do, in its own time. Claim that energy back for yourself - claim your belief in your own abundant and infinite self - and don't worry about his journey. Just do your own.

If you're worrying about his journey and him not "being what feels good to you or what you think he should be," that really is a mirror for you that YOU'RE not living YOUR life the way you want to and being all that YOU can be. He's not stopping you. Something inside yourself is stopping you. Clear up what that is, and then watch your life change dramatically.

All of life changes - it is inherently encoded in the very fiber of everything - in our cells - in the transformation of a caterpillar to a butterfly (look at the miracle of life force energy in THAT change!) or in a tadpole turning into a frog, or a child growing into an adult, or a sapling or seed or sprout turning into a huge tree - do you have to do anything to make those changes happen? No. It's already there, isn't it? So, it is made to all work out, isn't it?

All you have to do is trust that amazing life force energy - call it what you will - All you have to do is tune into and claim and accept that incredible life force within yourself - knowing that it abides within you just as it does in every amazing aspect of life - and when you claim it for yourself - AS YOURSELF - there can be no sense of you lacking in anything or needing to get anywhere or change anything - and the same is true then when you gaze out at the rest of life, including your partner. Then you can just enjoy and delight in what you see. It's all about how YOU choose to view things.

If a person is meant to continue on your journey with you, when you make a dramatic change, that person will as well. If they don't, then the flow of life will naturally end your travels together because you won't be vibrating along similar patterns and the roads you both naturally take will separate.

Each soul will take the road that matches their vibration. If you put out that intention and thought to the Universe, that whatever is in the Highest Good is the only thing that CAN happen - if you trust in the perfection of the process - and focus on YOUR OWN transformation, it will all be perfect, as it only can be. Right? Right.

Don't think you have to use force or push the process. Or worry it. Or judge it. All you need to do is ALLOW your own transformation and embrace yourself and your journey with wide, open arms and an exuberant, trusting heart. Like a tree in the rain.

Blessings, Ayal

The American Red Cross