Pleasure vs. Fulfillment

by David Bohl

A lot has been written about both pleasure and fulfillment, and often the terms are used almost interchangeably. I see them as different, and at the core, it’s a matter of time and degree. Pleasure is a feeling – albeit one we all would like to prolong or experience frequently – that occurs momentarily from whatever source before reality springs us back to real life. Fulfillment, on the other hand, carries with it an achievement that takes time and effort to create and has a lasting ability to supply us with continual happiness.

Why would anyone care where their happiness comes from? Well, in a sense we don’t necessarily care where happiness comes from, but understanding the differences in the sources of our happiness can help us build circumstances into our lives that have an ability to sustain themselves.

Let’s put this into perspective. Basically, pleasure is fleeting and fulfillment has roots. A lot of things can give us pleasure from a witty email to a really tasty Cappuccino, and at the same time it engenders what I’ll call transitory feelings of happiness that last barely past the reading of the email or the drinking of the coffee. That’s not to say they aren’t desirable feelings to have… of course they are and it’s healthy to feel pleasure and happiness from them. However, true fulfillment and sustainable happiness comes from having striven for and achieved something.

Often fulfillment is associated with personal, educational or career accomplishments. The implication here is that we are expending effort and energy over time for something meaningful that comes to fruition. These accomplishments can, and often do, lead to further opportunities and accomplishments. Each one builds on the previous, and expands and strengthens the satisfaction and, yes, happiness that fills our lives. That’s where sustainability kicks in.

There is fulfillment of a greater kind that is available to us, and this fulfillment has even deeper roots and stronger sustainability. I’m talking about the personal fulfillment of striving to know yourself, to develop as a human being and to be centered within the universe. Yeah, that’s a little esoteric; but let’s break it down. It’s so easy to set on a course at the outset of a career, marriage or relationship and still not end up in a happy place. Without a core-deep understanding of how we evolve as human beings, it is really difficult to make sure that initial course is on track over time with our ultimate goals and objectives.

I so often hear from people who have been in a career for 20 years and discover that, while they have fulfilled countless financial and positional objectives, they really are very miserable and unhappy people. Countless pages have been written about relationships which have run aground because people have “grown apart” and no longer share the same goals. Unfortunately this often occurs without anyone consciously thinking about their goals and life strategies.

These same people probably experienced numerous moments of pleasure during their lives that lead them to believe they were happy … and they probably were happy for short periods of time. However, for someone who is successful yet miserable there’s obviously something wrong. What gave them momentary pleasure was not created by the work they put into fulfilling their personal, professional or relationship objectives.

Do you see where I’m going with this? It’s the journey more than the destination that fills our lives with core-deep happiness. Many people end up with very financially successful careers, without ever experiencing any true happiness along the way. And relationships that aren’t full of communication, creativity, and inspiration can easily be split down the middle by conflicting goals and the everyday demands of life that weigh us down.

Action items/bullets:

So we know what’s wrong … what can we do to make it right, to trade passing pleasure for real fulfillment that translates into lasting happiness.

We need to get inside our heads and decide what drives our lives, and whether that has the capacity to fulfill our needs and make us happy.

Ask yourself a serious question: am I pursuing a career or relationship that, while financially or superficially fulfilling, does not nurture me as a human being or allow me to productively and creatively express myself in a way that fulfills me emotionally?

Then, accept the answer in your own mind and decide whether or not you like what you “hear” and what you want to do about it.

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