The meaning of fulfillment in midlife | Midlife Fulfilled Podcast

Your Desire to Thrive in Midlife is Fueled by Fulfillment

One of the top two questions I am often asked is what is the meaning of fulfillment. That’s why I’m dedicating this post to the topic. I have learned that the meaning of fulfillment is not universally understood. 

I dedicated episode 182 to this topic:

The following is my definition of fulfillment, and then I’ll explain why fulfillment is important to each of us. 

But, first here is a spoiler alert. In the first 200 responses of the 2024 midlife fulfilled survey, the answer to the survey question: “If you hypothetically could only be happy or fulfilled, which would you choose?” More than 80% have chosen fulfillment. 

So, here is the definition of fulfillment in contrast to the definition of happiness, because happiness and fulfillment are often spoken of interchangeably. 

Happiness is often described as a fleeting emotion. It can be short-lived or long-lasting. It is characterized by moments of joy that can come and go based on external circumstances or even mood swings. Happiness is commonly a reactive condition to experiences, and this may include events such as getting married, watching your child score a goal in sports, having lunch with a good friend, or simply enjoying a pleasant activity such as a vacation.

By contrast, fulfillment is a deeper, more enduring state that stems from a sense of purpose, meaning, and satisfaction in activities and notably in achievements. It is not solely about the pleasure of the moment but about achieving a balanced state of being that aligns with your values, goals, and aspirations. You can experience fulfillment by engaging in activities that resonate with your deeper self, contributing to a sense of wholeness and contentment. Fulfillment is immutable because it is rarely erased by external changes or temporary setbacks. Examples of fulfillment may include closing a sale, getting promoted, completing a degree or certification program, watching your kid graduate from college. 

In summary, while happiness can be a momentary state of pleasure or joy, fulfillment is a sustained sense of achievement and meaning derived from living in alignment with your deepest values and purposes.

The definition above is straight from my 2024 midlife fulfillment survey. You can see how these definitions paint a clear picture that happiness is an emotion, that can come and go while fulfillment is deeper, it’s tied to your value system and contributes to your whole being. Most notable, fulfillment is immutable, at least most of the time. 

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So, why is fulfillment important to each of us? 

It’s because fulfillment is a deeply meaningful aspect of our life, our human experience. I often hear some of these words used as synonyms for fulfillment; satisfaction, contentment, purpose, and joy. Maybe you’ve heard me say that fulfillment happens in our soul. Actually, fulfillment happens when we align our actions with our core values and aspirations. 

Fulfillment is Part of Our Meaning and Purpose

We all have an innate desire to find meaning and purpose in our lives. Fulfillment provides a sense of significance in some areas of our life. In some ways it helps us understand our place in the world and the impact we can have. When we feel fulfilled, we experience a deeper connection to something bigger than ourselves, whether it’s a cause, a belief, or a sense of contribution to society. When I completed my undergrad degree with half of it taking evening classes over a four year span of time, I felt a sense of accomplishment. It was a milestone for me in preparation to make my mark in the world, not that one must have a college degree to make a difference. But, it was very important for me to have earned my degree, in part because neither of my parents were college graduates. So, this achievement was bigger than me. 

Self-Actualization

Self-actualization is famously at the top of the pyramid in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Fulfillment is closely tied to the concept of self-actualization, which is described as the realization of your full potential. While we all have an inherent drive to become the best versions of ourselves, most of us never get there. We experience fulfillment when we do things that challenge us, using our unique talents and abilities, and achieve personal growth and self-mastery of some discipline. A moment ago I said that most of us never realize self-actualization. That’s because the concept of mastery of a discipline is a high bar. We think of elite athletes, movie stars, and captains of industry when we think of mastery. This is why I advocate for focusing on the five pillars, so that you don’t make the unrealistic attempt to master life, but rather attempt to master each of the pillars. Or, at least get to 80% fulfillment in each pillar, which – IMO – is pretty darn close to complete fulfillment in any of the pillars. 

Emotional Well-being

We humans are emotional creatures. Guess what, fulfillment is deeply intertwined with our emotional well-being. When we feel fulfilled, we experience contentment, joy, and inner peace. This positive emotional state has a profound impact on our overall mental health. We reduce stress, anxiety, and depression, and enjoy a greater sense of emotional stability. I can honestly say that my emotional well-being is much more influenced by my levels of fulfillment across the five pillars, than my happiness. Remember, happiness is an emotion. It is fleeting. It can go as fast as it came. When I achieve fulfillment in something such as publishing episode 100 of the Midlife Fulfilled podcast, as insignificant as that may seem, it is an immutable fulfillment. Nothing can take it away from me. And, this is a big contributor to my emotional well-being.  

Relationships and Connections

Fulfillment is often influenced by our relationships and connections with others. Meaningful relationships are based on deep and authentic connections that contribute to the well-being of others, as well as our own well-being. When we experience fulfillment from our relationships they are bigger than my individual triumphs. These connections – whether it’s with family, friends or colleagues – foster a sense of belonging, a sense of community, a sense of love, and overall a sense of meaning and purpose – which is a recurring theme – and these are essential components of a fulfilling life. When my parents were alive I had a good, but not great relationship with them. I have a great relationship with my wife of 36 years and my two adult children, AND their spouses, and now my grandchildren. I have a handful of friendships that are very meaningful connections. I have a sincere connection to God through my Bible-based faith. All of these relationships bring me a strong sense of fulfillment. 

Legacy and Impact

Whenever I speak with someone for the first time about my Midlife Fulfilled podcast, I always explain that the podcast is based on the five pillars of midlife: health, fitness, career, relationships, and legacy. Anecdotally, most people react with the most excitement about the legacy pillar. Most of us desire to leave a lasting impact on the world in some way. It doesn’t have to be a big impact. Your legacy can be through creative projects, philanthropic efforts, or contributions to a global cause or to a local community. The older we get, the stronger the pursuit of fulfillment involves a desire to do something enduring and meaningful that will outlive us and positively influence future generations. I have previously shared my three legacy groups: my immediate family, wife, kids, grandkids, a gentleman that I mentor, and the people who choose to listen to the Midlife Fulfilled podcast and choose to engage in my service offerings. 

To put a bow on the meaning of fulfillment it is significant because it speaks to our deepest human needs and aspirations. Fulfillment gives us a sense of purpose, personal growth, emotional well-being, meaningful connections, and a lasting impact. When we pursue fulfillment, we not only enrich our own lives but we also contribute to the greater good, whatever the greater good means to you. 

Where are You in Your Fulfillment Journey? 

So, what are you thinking right now? Maybe you’re thinking that you need to focus more on fulfillment in your life instead of happiness. Maybe you’re thinking that you’re doing very well in fulfillment across the five pillars. Whichever one is you, own it. Own it! It’s your life. I want you to chase fulfillment every day. Remember that fulfillment is immutable (most of the time). And, the thing about fulfillment is the more we experience it, the more we want to experience it. Fulfillment is addicting (in a good way). 

As mentioned at the beginning of this post, I covered this topic in episode 182, the first episode of season three, and the first ‘On My Mind’ episode. Subscribe to follow more on these topics including my unpack of the five pillars. These five pillars are also a frequent topic of conversation with people asking when discussing my Midlife Fulfilled podcast. 

I want to remind you to take my midlife fulfillment survey if you haven’t taken it yet. The survey closes at the end of May (2024). I’ll remind you that the survey does NOT ask you for your name or email address. You will be contributing to valuable research anonymously. I’m partnering with Udemy on this research project. We will publish a meaningful report this summer with the findings from the survey. 

Remember, if you’re 80% fulfilled, you’re doing great! 

Feature image designed by Freepik.

Midlife Fulfilled Survey In Cooperation with Udemy

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