The Essentials of a Fulfilling Life
7 lessons from a teacher, author & stay-at-home father on living a fulfilling life
By Daniel J. MacIntyre
What motivates people to do what they do? Why do we spend so much time and energy on certain things, like making money, but so little time on the things that bring us lasting fulfillment like connecting with our children or spending quality time with our spouse? These two primary questions have preoccupied me for years, and I’ve often wondered if the average person ever actually considers these things. After years of contemplation and self reflection, I think I’ve discovered something remarkable. Most people are actually trying, even if unconsciously, to create a more fulfilling life for themselves. We approach our lives with the notion that our daily actions, as small and insignificant as they may be, will eventually get us closer to the life we want to live. We secretly believe that if we do the “right things”, then someday we will ultimately arrive at our desired destination (i.e. living-out our dreams).
So if this is the notion is correct, then why are so few people living the life they truly desire? Certainly, thousands of people would be arriving at their destination every single day? But this does not seem to be the case. So how do you create a fulfilling life? Well, there are countless books on the subject, but is there any truth to the far-fetched ideas they present?! What if the answers to theses tough questions were far simpler than you imagined? What if the answers were sitting right in front of you? Would you listen to it?
Here is how I see it. I think the answer begins with taking a panoramic view of your life and questioning the very nature of your motivation. I have done this kind of soul searching and it can be quite painful, but if one follows through with it, it can also be quite liberating. The more I asked myself tough questions about my life and my choices, the more uncover my true motivations. If I have the courage to question conventional wisdom and even my own biases, I will discover something unique about myself.
I have never believed in taking the conventional route in life. Even though I attended University and earned a graduate degree, I don’t believe I ever defined myself based on my achievements. There were times in my life where I made lots of money and enjoyed promotions, but others when I was down on my luck and could not find work. I have been hired and fired more times than I can count and I have worked in multiple career paths (teaching, marketing, consulting, sales, food service, retail, publication, and even a business owner). Interestingly, I have learned that almost all jobs are pretty much the same. Different rules and personalities, but at the end of the day it’s all just “work”.
Now, I am a stay-at-home parent to my three young children (ages 4, 3 and 1) I balance teaching night classes with domestic responsibilities and attending to my marriage. I am proud to say that the past four years in my life have been the most fulfilling and rewarding ones of my life, even if I have made almost no money and have had no notable achievement (at least not by society’s standards). Interestingly, I have had more “mental breakdowns” and more “depression” than any other time in my life. You might be asking yourself, “Why do you consider this to be fulfilling?”. One of my favorite assertions is by William Blake in his Auguries of Innocents. Half-way through this poem he states: “joy and woe are woven fine, a clothing for a soul divine”. He reveals that life is an interchange of joy and woe, success and failure, and this is what truly defines us. It reveals who we really are. Even though, my “ego” has undergone some serious assault and humbling over the years, my spirit has matured in countless ways. I have bypassed the good opinion of society, my family, my colleagues, and have begun to discover a truer part of myself and the nature of lasting fulfillment.
So, what is a fulfilling life? The simplest answer is: A life that is lived. Another answer is: A life that is uniquely yours. In this simple frame work there are seven lessons that will help you determine whether or not you are living a life that is uniquely your own. Consider these lessons with an open mind and you will discover something truly valuable about yourself.
Lesson 1: Think for yourself
If your actions are motivated by competing with someone or comparing yourself to other people than you are not likely living your own life. Your mission here on earth has nothing to do with comparing yourself to others. Your mission is to live your life. To do what satisfies your soul. The only way to truly think for yourself is to deeply reflect on what truly inspires you, and then do these things. Turn-off the media and walk away from competing with others and you will begin to sense a more compelling purpose.
Lesson 2: Accept physical death and spiritual life
If you are fearful then you are not really living. All fears originate in the ultimate fear; the fear of dying. There is no death. It’s all in your head. When I coach people on this function of life, I encourage people to take an entire day (8+ hours) to explore this fallacy of thinking. The simplest way to retrain the mind is to reprogram it with truth. One easy way to do this is to spend an entire day watching videos and testimonials of NDE’s (Near Death Experiences). These testimonials will sweep over your consciousness with a new perspective on life and begin to eliminate your fear of death. There are thousands of documented and verified videos of NDE’s online. This experience will profoundly change your perspectives on life and “death”.
Lesson 3: Decide that there is more to life than making money
This idea sounds simple in theory, but it’s more challenging to practice. It seems like making money and “success” is the only things people talk about. You must constantly remind yourself that you can experience a fulfilling life without needing more. Ironically, too much money and too many choices can make life unfulfilling and more challenging. I am a firm believer that God gives you exactly the amount you need, in terms of money and in all other areas of our life.
Lesson 4: Connect
Connecting with others is what life is all about. Mental health issues and suicide rates are in direct proportion to the amount of time people spend in isolation. Call your family and friends whenever you need to realign yourself and your life. A simple conversation can change your entire outlook on life. Talk is the greatest gift of life. It’s how we express our inner world to those we truly care about.
Lesson 5: Let go of guilt
Tell yourself at the end of each day that you did your best. Mistakes are built in to the process of life. They are a requirement for all living things. We can learn a lot from our mistakes, but we cannot go back in time and change them. Give yourself a break! You deserve it. Life is challenging. It seems almost impossible at times. So you made a mistake, big deal. Guilt is the only way to continuously relive our mistakes. Our ego loves guild because it makes us the victim of ourselves. Moving-on and forgiving ourselves is a sign of real strength. It shows that we can accept ourselves as being human.
Lesson 6: Do what brings you joy
The things that bring us the most joy are also the most pleasurable. However, the most pleasurable things are not what bring us the most joy. Know the difference between the things that inspire you and the things that just bring bodily pleasure. Engage in activities that give you deep satisfaction and enjoyment. The more you engage in the things you truly love, the happier and more fulfilled you’ll be.
Lesson 7: Check-in with the “man upstairs”
Spirituality gives our life perspective. You don’t have to go church to counsel with a higher power. God does not care either way. When you are lost, confused, or ill, ask for guidance. It will come to you, even if it’s not the answer you are looking for. Surrendering to a higher purpose guaranteed fulfillment because it takes the pressure of you and puts it on your creator. We don’t have the ability to manage the entire Universe, so we need to stop trying.
Thank you for considering the seven lessons and I wish you the best of luck on your journey.