Do you feel vaguely numb as your head hits the pillow at the end of a long day? A gnawing sense of dissatisfaction you can’t quite put your finger on? It’s a sad existence when you’re feeling unfulfilled in life – I know, because I’ve been there myself.
And sometimes, it doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense. On the surface of it, you have everything you could possibly want – a nice house, a stable relationship, a good job. And yet, despite this, you still feel as though something is just… missing.
If this all sounds painfully familiar, then firstly – well done for having the courage to acknowledge the problem. It’s so easy to march blindly on ignoring your own intuition, so this is the first step towards change.
No matter where you are right now, I promise that it’s not too late to start moving in a new direction that points towards your best life. Self-help doesn’t have to be complicated or involve years of therapy. In this article, we’ll examine the root cause of these feelings and how you can overcome them to build a life of true meaning and fulfilment.
The Three Pillars of Wellbeing
If you sense that you’re off-track, it can feel completely overwhelming knowing where to start. It’s possible to go down all sorts of philosophical rabbit holes when trying to get to the root cause of your dissatisfaction.
Whilst it may sound like an oversimplification, I agree wholeheartedly with Mark Manson that there are really only three things you need to build a fulfilling life. These serve as the strong underlying foundations that support your sense of self and well-being. In truth, they are responsible for driving the vast majority of your happiness and fulfilment in life.
If you’re a visual person, then think of it as being supported by three pillars. These are: your relationships, doing meaningful work, and looking after your body. And, because you’re reading this article right now, I’d hazard a pretty confident guess that you’re struggling in one or more of these areas. Because someone who is supported by these pillars can’t help but feel an overall sense of satisfaction with their life.
Let’s take a look at them in a little more detail.
1. Social Connection: Do you have meaningful relationships?
Human beings are hardwired for connection – it is an innate need that we all share. So if you find yourself feeling unfulfilled, it may be that your social life is lacking or you feel disconnected from those around you.
Let’s be clear here – I don’t mean that you need to be an extroverted social butterfly. In fact, this could easily lead to the kind of shallow relationships that cause you to feel dissatisfied in the first place. What you really need is a handful of good people around you that you connect with on more than a surface level.
Consider your romantic relationship, too. Does your partner make you feel loved and secure? In How to Be an Adult in Relationships, David Richo identifies the 5 ‘As’ of a healthy relationship as attention, acceptance, appreciation, affection and allowing – is there a healthy balance of giving and receiving these?
It might not be immediately obvious that you are feeling lonely. But the truth is that you can be surrounded by people and lack a sense of belonging. Authentic relationships result in feeling connected and understood, so if this is an area you’re struggling with, start small by making it a daily habit to check in with a friend or a loved one.
2. Meaningful Work: Do you have a purpose that’s greater than yourself?
Toxic work environments that cause burnout and stress are obviously problematic, but often it’s more subtle than that. Perhaps there’s nothing exactly bad about your job and yet you still have a niggling sense that you are on the wrong career path – chasing promotions and a bigger pay packet as opposed to thinking about what would really align with your passions, values and strengths.
When I say ‘meaningful work’, I should clarify here that I don’t necessarily mean what you do for a living or your dream job. The real question to consider if you’re feeling unfulfilled is whether you have a vision or a goal that is bigger than yourself – a cause that propels you forward and touches the lives of other people.
What are your unique gifts – the things that make your heart sing and time stop? Doing meaningful work that benefits those around you will change your life in all sorts of positive ways – helping you to feel fulfilled no matter the ups and downs that life throws your way. You can start small by building a creativity habit into your daily routine.
3. Physical Health: Do you consistently look after your body?
Last but not least, if you’re feeling unfulfilled, then ask yourself how you look after your body on a daily basis. We only have one precious body and most of us would agree that it’s important how we treat it, but it’s amazing how our physical health is often the first thing to get relegated to the bottom of our priority list.
A healthy body also happens to consist of three main pillars – the holy trifecta of diet, exercise and sleep. Fuel your body with nutritious whole foods (less over-processed junk), move your body (even if it’s just getting outside for a walk), and get a decent night’s sleep (a consistent 7-9 hours). It’s really that simple.
When I started my journey towards intentional living, I found that this was the easiest pillar to start building. So if you’re feeling stuck, then begin here with some disciplined daily habits that support your physical health. The compound interest of healthy habits can’t help but influence you in other areas of your life, too.
10 Underlying Reasons Why You Feel Lost & Unfulfilled in Life
Concentrating your energies on the three pillars of well-being will get you on the right track, improving your self-confidence and mental health in the process. However, if you want to do some more thorough self-investigation, then consider these 10 underlying reasons why you may be feeling unfulfilled in life.
1. You don’t know your values
Do you know what’s important to you in life?
It’s a deceptively simple question, but if you find yourself feeling unfulfilled and empty, then perhaps you’ve never stopped to consider what you personally value. So many of us busily rush around on the surface of our lives, doing the things that are required of us and barely pausing for air. If this is the case, then you may be moving forward… but with no idea as to where you’re headed.
Only by taking the time to identify your core values will you understand your ‘why’; developing the self-awareness and inner wisdom required to live a fulfilling life.
Living authentically stems from living by your values, which ultimately leads to longer-term fulfilment and satisfaction. You can rely on your values to act as a guiding compass when you can’t see the way – consistently pointing you in the right direction.
2. You’re not taking responsibility
If you regularly feel helpless, then this can lead to a victim mentality where you don’t feel like you have any agency over your own life. The resulting behaviour may be relying on others for your happiness, expecting others to fix you, or simply blaming other people (and the world at large) for your problems.
My best advice to address a sense of learned helplessness would be to read Radical Forgiveness by Colin Tipping – a somewhat controversial book which completely challenged me to reframe the way I look at the world. In short, it means taking radical responsibility for everything that happens to you – the good, the bad and the ugly.
Whilst this may sound extreme, it’s a necessary reminder that you are always in the driving seat of your life, even when it doesn’t feel like it. And, particularly when you’re feeling unfulfilled, it’s your job to make the necessary changes.
3. You’re addicted to the instant gratification of hyper stimuli
When I say the word ‘addiction’, what’s the first thing that springs to mind?
Probably hardcore drugs or an out-of-control gambling habit.
However, in a consumerist culture, I would argue that we are all addicts. Whether it’s scrolling social media, eating junk food, getting drunk, watching porn or shopping online – all of these things may appear more socially acceptable on the surface, but the effects of these hyper-stimuli can be incredibly damaging.
The problem is that we start to rely on short-term dopamine hits of instant gratification. And because the effects wear off so quickly, it’s never enough. We always feel as though we need another hit.
Identify your own toxic patterns and any bad habits that you struggle to control. A life of long-term satisfaction and fulfilment isn’t made up of these spikes in highs and lows – it’s steadier, healthier and more sustainable.
4. You’re all talk & no action
So, if you weren’t aware, mental masturbation is a thing!
Even when you have big dreams in life, you can still feel stuck in analysis paralysis when you don’t take any meaningful actions towards your goals. Whether you’re procrastinating to avoid the real world or you’re afraid of failure, there are many reasons why it’s easier to talk about the things we want to do… rather than just get on and actually do them.
When you’re feeling unfulfilled in life, it may be because your dreams feel more like pipe dreams – far-fetched and unachievable. However, it is only by making mistakes, failing forwards and taking consistent action that self-improvement is possible.
If this is something that you particularly struggle with, then I’d suggest writing a to-do list and tackling the ugly frog first thing in the morning. This way, you train yourself to do the things which will bring you closer to your highest self.
5. You prioritise comfort over growth
If you never push yourself outside of your comfort zone, you are setting yourself up for a life of unfulfillment in the long run.
The thing is, it’s completely natural to shy away from the things that scare you. As humans, fear is a primal cue to back off – for our distant ancestors, making a risky decision could easily have proved fatal. Our brains are literally wired to keep us safe. However, the reality is that 99% of the fear you experience in your comfortable 21st-century life is a far cry from a life-or-death situation.
Whether it’s starting a YouTube channel, joining a new gym or moving to a new city, doing the things which scare you and overcoming your limiting beliefs is generally the best thing you can do to change your life for the better. But the short-term pain of being vulnerable, opening yourself up to judgement or feeling emotionally unsettled is enough to stop you from biting the bullet and reaching your full potential.
6. You aren’t spending enough time in nature
According to a recent study, 92% of people who visited a green and natural space in the previous 14 days agreed that it was good for their mental health.
As a society, we have largely forgotten the powerful restorative effects of immersing ourselves in the natural world. It’s easy to get completely emotionally swept up in our own little worlds, but realising that we are part of something larger than ourselves expands our perspective and helps us to see beyond this.
If you find that you spend most of your time indoors, whether it’s at home or in an office, make an effort to spend some time in green spaces. Even if you live in a city, take a stroll around your local urban park and breathe in the fresh air. This is a meditative practice that allows you to have some quiet reflection time with your own thoughts, as well as inviting more inner peace and clarity.
7. You’re trying to please everyone else
If you identify people-pleasing tendencies within yourself, then you may find yourself being pulled in a million different directions – many of which are conflicting, and none of which are going to get you very far.
When you prioritise everyone else’s wants and needs above your own, it’s no wonder you feel unfulfilled at a deeper level. In the process of diminishing your inner voice and thereby your authentic self, others can sense this, and so the irony is that you will never receive the respect you so desperately crave from others.
You must learn to set boundaries and practise saying no. As the safety brief always goes before take-off: put your own oxygen mask on before helping others.
8. You think success has to look a certain way
Does it ever feel as though you’re acting out a pre-written script for your life?
I know that, in the past, I regularly felt like I was going through the motions. My life was a well-trodden path laid out before me – with no room to deviate. I was always playing the ‘good girl’, acting out the narrative of what I’d been told success was. But I felt hollow on the inside.
What did this look like? Good grades to get into a good university that led to a well-paid job. A nice house. Engagement. And what would eventually have been marriage and kids had I not finally woken up to my own intuition and realised that something was massively off.
If you’re not careful, you come to realise that you’re living other people’s dreams. And you start to feel one step removed from life because it’s not your own authentic vision of success. It’s all just for show.
Question everything that you assume you must do (especially if your answer is “because it’s what everyone else does”). Your life plan should be entirely your own.
9. You think you can shop your way to happiness
We live in a capitalist consumer culture that bombards us with 24/7 adverts and emails. Brands know how to prey on your emotions and manipulate you with a false sense of urgency (if you’ve ever felt pressured by a ‘sale ends tomorrow’ message, then you’ll know exactly what I mean).
The truth of the matter is that more stuff won’t make you any happier – period. I think we all probably know this deep down, but for some reason, we remain ever-hopeful that this next ASOS haul will be the one to finally end the hunt for the perfect pair of jeans.
Don’t be suckered in by the marketing hype and prettily packaged goods. Lasting fulfilment cannot be found in a foundation bottle or a flashy new car – even if it does give you a hit of euphoria in the moment. Instead, prioritise experiences over things and when you do shop, support ethical brands that align with your values.
10. You don’t appreciate the present moment
Are your eyes always trained on that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow?
Basically, you reach some goal that you think is going to be the answer to all your problems and instantly transform your life… and it just never is that magic pill. After a while, there’s always a shiny new object on the horizon that you’re utterly convinced really will bring you happiness this time around.
Honestly? The best thing you can do is to get the boyfriend, the first-class degree or the dream house as quickly as possible. This way, you’ll come to the realisation that there is no silver bullet in life.
If your happiness is a destination in the future that you’re always working towards, you’re never going to experience satisfaction or fulfilment right now. I know that this can be difficult, but you’ve got to start enjoying the journey more and focusing on the destination less.
Do this, and the icing on the cake is that the destination will take care of itself.
Feeling Unfulfilled? Take Radical Responsibility & Walk Your Own Path
When you feel empty, bored and unfulfilled, you may feel the need to make extreme changes. But the funny thing is that people who move country always report the same thing – that despite the change of scenery, they still felt just the same within themselves.
And that’s because you can escape your outer surroundings but you can’t escape your inner landscape.
You’ve got to do the inner work and take responsibility for your life. And whilst this may sound daunting, the good news is that you can start right now, exactly where you’re currently standing. Don’t underestimate the power of the tiniest 1% habit changes when it comes to changing the overall trajectory of your life.
Whilst I’m a huge advocate of self-help, please note that persistent feelings of emptiness, boredom and unfulfillment can ultimately lead to the onset of depression. If you’re struggling and you don’t feel like you can work through these feelings on your own, then talk to a loved one or book yourself in with a therapist. And, if you feel like you’re having a crisis, pick up the phone and talk to a professional.
I hope this article helps you, and that you decide to subscribe and join the intentional movement. Let’s design a life you’re obsessed with, today.