Guest post by Karen Kuhlman LSW, CADC
As you enter the Holiday season with the New Year on the horizon, you might find yourself taking stock of your life and examining where you are feeling less than satisfied or even deeply unfulfilled. Know that you’re not alone if you find yourself asking questions like “Why do I feel unfulfilled?” or “Why do I feel unsatisfied all of the time?” or “How do I stop feeling unfulfilled?”
Here are some tips for navigating this unsettled time and landing (gently) on your feet. First, let’s discover the sources of your discontent. For many people, relationships and work are major contributors to feelings of unfulfillment.
Feeling Unfulfilled in Relationships
Relationships encompass a wide swath of human interaction: familial relationships, business relationships, marriage, partnerships, and friendships, to name just a few. If you are feeling dissatisfied in your relationships, it can help to ask yourself what you feel that you might be missing.
For example, it might be that you are feeling lonely in your relationship. “Loneliness is feeling disconnected from meaning – or something bigger than yourself. If you understand that, then it’s easier to understand how to solve it,” says Dr. Bea Harris, Humana’s Director of Human Behaviors.
Another common cause of feeling unfulfilled in relationships is a lack of mutuality. That might manifest as an imbalance in who does the work of the relationship. For instance, you might be the one who always initiates communication or engagement. That kind of one-sidedness contributes to relationships being unfulfilling.
When you allow yourself to feel and to name those feelings and needs, you empower yourself to do something about it and to get those needs met.
Feeling Unfulfilled in Professional Life
A recent article in the Washington Post referenced a cultural shift occurring in society. This change, called The Great Reassessment or The Great Resignation, has many reconsidering how and why they work. Why is this social shift happening? The answer may lie in the notion that many of us were feeling unfulfilled with how we were living our lives. With the pandemic-imposed halt on venturing outside of our homes, many people were forced to reassess their lives, both on a personal and professional level. You might be one of those people and may be looking for ways to feel more satisfied in your life.
So take time to reassess. Clarify your vision for yourself and the direction of your life. Are you doing what you want to be doing, or are you chasing rewards that society or your family led you to think you wanted? Getting in touch with your feelings about your work life and what you really want to contribute in the world of work can be key in becoming more satisfied.
When you have identified the source(s) of your dissatisfaction, there still may be the question of what to do when you feel unfulfilled.
It is easy to get stuck in the feelings of dissatisfaction and unfulfillment. Reframing these feelings into questions about opportunity is a great first step when you’re asking how to stop feeling unfulfilled.
- What is this feeling of dissatisfaction trying to communicate to me about how I am currently living my life?
- What is the opportunity in this situation?
- What can these feelings teach me?
- What can I learn about myself?
Make friends with the questions. Be okay with not knowing and with being uncertain. Explore.
Getting in touch with your feelings involves taking an honest inventory of what might be missing from your life. This is a time to be gentle with yourself. Just allow the feelings to come up. Sit with them, breathe through them, and eventually allow them to pass. In this way, you can begin to name the feelings that signal your needs. And when you give voice to your needs, it is far easier to understand how to get your needs met.
What to do when you are feeling unfulfilled
As you embark on this journey of self-discovery and naming your feelings, there are a few things that you can do to improve your resilience in times of discontent or feelings of dissatisfaction. These practices can even diminish the feelings of unfulfillment.
Remember the many things for which you can be grateful. If you have sight, be grateful for your eyes. If you have legs, be grateful that they can move you through your day. Do you have a roof over your head? Be grateful for shelter. You get the gist …. Every one of us can find something to be grateful for! Gratitude not only reduces feelings of discontent, it also has been shown to increase relationship satisfaction.
Be present in your life. Notice the beauty around you. Get in touch with your five senses. Breathe. Jon Kabat-Zinn, the creator of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School states that “The best way to capture moments is to pay attention. This is how we cultivate mindfulness. Mindfulness means being awake. It means knowing what you are doing.” Further, “Mindfulness is about love and loving life. When you cultivate this love, it gives you clarity and compassion for life, and your actions happen in accordance with that.”
Writing can be a beautiful form of self-discovery on the road to finding more fulfillment. The writer Joan Didion once noted that “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.” Your writing practice doesn’t have to be fancy, and it doesn’t even have to make sense. The artist Julia Cameron, brilliant author of the classic, The Artist’s Way, made Morning Pages a part of everyday vernacular when she espoused the benefits of writing three pages a day. If you find three pages intimidating, start with one paragraph. The goal is to get the clutter out and onto the page so that you can think (and feel) more clearly.
The bottom line:
You have the power to become alive and engaged in your life. It’s not an easy journey, but a worthwhile one in that it can lead you to a more satisfying and fulfilling life. Using tools such as reframing, gratitude, mindfulness, and writing get you moving in the right direction! These can help you to stop feeling unfulfilled.
If your feelings go beyond simply feeling unfulfilled in your life and your feelings are becoming overwhelming or unmanageable, please visit https://www.samhsa.gov or https://www.nami.org/Home If you are in the northern Illinois area, please reach out to Life Care Wellness. With offices in Glen Ellyn, Chicago (Jefferson Park), and Sycamore, Life Care Wellness offers a variety of mental health services for individuals, including family support.
Karen Kuhlman is a licensed therapist and addiction specialist at Life Care Wellness, a group psychotherapy practice in Glen Ellyn, Sycamore, and Chicago (Jefferson Park), Illinois. Karen specializes in substance use and process addictions (eating disorders, shopping, gambling etc.) and firmly believes that the greatest challenges in our lives are also our greatest opportunities for growth and healing.