A life well lived

What makes you content and fulfilled?

What stops you from doing more of that?

These are important questions, and you should take time to ask them every now and then and deliberate on your answers.

But let's dissect these questions first. The words "content" and "fulfilled" both imply "a state of satisfaction." The word fulfilled actually means a bit more; it is satisfaction that comes from fully developing one's abilities or character.

Being content and fulfilled are different from being happy or pleased. The latter imply a feeling of satisfaction (which is often fleeting), and not a state of satisfaction. Many things can give you an initial jolt of pleasure but leave you without any contentment. Watching mindless TV makes you feel good while doing it, but then you don't feel content or satisfied. Surfing the Internet for "tech news", memes, and political news feel good, because it gives you a dopamine hit, but then it leaves you unsatisfied and sometimes more stressed/agitated longing for more quick dopamine fixes.

In contrast contentment and fulfillment can come from struggling with a math/programming task and solving it, writing a blog post explaining a technology, reading a good book, running/exercising, drawing, painting, or spending quality time with loved ones. These do not have the quick up front dopamine fix, but they leave you with a longer lasting state of satisfaction.

What makes you content and fulfilled?

We come into this world with a specific, personal destiny. We have a job to do, a calling to enact, a self to become. We are who we are from the cradle, and we're stuck with it. Our job in this lifetime is not to shape ourselves into some ideal we imagine we ought to be, but to find out who we already are and become it.
"War of Art", Steven Pressfield
Does this sound to you too controversial? Well, don't dismiss this view too quickly. If you have kids, it becomes apparent that they all come with their own personality pre-wired. It should not be controversial at all that everyone has some unique tendencies, nature, and talents... It is worth searching for them, nurturing them, and using them for your fulfillment.

Here is a note of caution though. This does not mean you should be fix-minded and settle down too quickly about the limits of your capabilities. You don't need to take others views/expectations of you as the guide, and you should explore your tendencies/talents by trying different things. And you should remember that it doesn't necessarily come easy first. Struggling/suffering is inevitable, and you should push through and grow from it. There is a saying: "Don't quit on bad days." Push through the hard part, and then see if you develop a taste for this.

In fact, sometimes the people who have difficulty learning something, whom others would not call a natural, may have the freshest perspectives on things. If you are the type that do not understand things quickly, that is not necessarily bad. This may even make you more suitable for explaining things to others, because you spend longer time in understanding them. This may also make it easier for you to synthesize these hard-earned dissected information into new insights.

DILLER:​ ​By purpose or by temperament, I'm only interested in those things where I haven't figured it out, and I really do think that however it happened, that when I was presented endlessly with things I didn't understand, the only thing I could do—because my brain is slower, and therefore is more literal--and therefore my process is, I have to get it down to its tiniest particle, or else... I can't come in and understand an equation, if you can put it in equation terms, unless I de-equation it--I can't pick it up. So I'm forced – by a lack of brain matter, I am forced to – no I'm not saying it – it's true! To break it down as hardly low as I can get it, and only then--and that's learning. That's real -- that is joyous work to me, is getting through those layers, down to something, and then once I'm down there, once I'm actually at the very, very base of it, I can actually start to do something good.

See... He says "joyous work". Fulfillment comes from that.

What is stopping you from pursuing contentment and fulfillment?

Now that we understand the first question, let's consider the second one.

While the answer to the first question vary, the answer to the second question is often you. It is often us that obstruct our way to contentment and fulfillment.

Why? Because it is not all roses and smooth gliding on that road to contentment/fulfillment. There is suffering associated with anything that is worth doing and worth providing fulfillment. In the words of Steven Pressfield "Any act that rejects immediate gratification in favor of long-term growth, health or integrity will elicit Resistance." So we keep putting off our pursuit towards contentment and fulfillment.

But here is the thing. The price of fulfillment is temporary suffering, but the cost of missing out is perpetual suffering. Although it is hard to do something worth being proud of and content with, it is even harder to suppress your need for contentment and fulfillment. It makes you feel miserable in the long run.

On the other hand, if we develop the skills to overcome our initial resistance against pursuing fulfilling task/activities, we often find ourselves more energized, and not tired, afterwards. As counterintuitive as it is, this is what we experience if we pay attention to our lives.

The lesson seems obvious, and this is nothing new, but we keep forgetting about it. So it is worth taking notice of this in our lives and reminding this to ourselves until it becomes a second nature to us.


Peter Chung said…
Much appreciated for the post

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