Most people will readily admit to wanting a fulfilled life, but what does that actually mean? It’s a question that has vexed philosophers from the Buddha to Aristotle and one that continues to challenge us today.
Part of the reason for the ambiguity is that “living fully” means different things to different people. At an abstract level, a fulfilled life is about engaging in acts that promote meaning or happiness in daily life. At a practical level, this could include spending time with family and friends, volunteering in one’s community or learning new skills. For others, it could involve travel, music or the outdoors.
To further complicate things, research shows that acts that are meaningful might not necessarily bring happiness and vice versa. Wealth is an interesting example of this. Contrary to popular belief, money can indeed “buy” or boost happiness. However, it seems to have much less impact on meaning. One measure of this disconnect is that citizens of poorer countries often report seeing their lives as more meaningful than those in high-income countries. This paradox further demonstrates that defining a fulfilled life is a highly personal process.
A recent, large study by Abbott sought to understand what makes people feel fulfilled. The survey asked nearly two million individuals across countries, including India, to comment on what contributes to living a fulfilled life. Respondents were also encouraged to self-report their current levels of personal fulfillment to compare with the fulfillment standards they had set for themselves.
The results show that, worldwide, family (32%), success (12%) and giving (8%) are most often selected as top contributors of a fulfilled life. This held true for countries like India and Mexico. In contrast, factors like the outdoors (3%), food (2%) and the arts (2%) ranked lowest on average worldwide. India followed the same pattern. Self-reported fulfillment scores reached 68 out of 100 globally, with many national averages clustered close by.
In the case of India, comparing what we think makes us feel fulfilled to how fulfilled we actually are reveals some surprising paths to greater fulfillment:
- Success doesn’t guarantee a fulfilled life, and we may be over-focused on it. Societal pressure to succeed, especially in financial terms, may be taking a toll on how fulfilled we feel. Indians disproportionately chose “success” as the top driver of fulfillment (18% vs 12% globally), yet those same people reported lower personal fulfillment scores. Focusing less on financial success could free up the energy needed to focus on acts that bring fulfillment to the individual as well as to society.
- Family is center stage when it comes to living fully. Respondents who listed family (27%) as most important for living a fulfilled life indeed had higher fulfillment scores. This suggests that, despite the changing role of family and the ever-pressing time constraints that keep us away from loved ones, family still provides the kind of meaning and happiness that are important to living life fully.
- Health is foundational for living fully but is somewhat overlooked. While the connection between health and living a fulfilled life is self-evident, only 5% of respondents listed health as the most important determinant of a fulfilled life. When we compare this to China (20%) and Brazil (11%), it appears that we are paying insufficient attention to the issue or taking for granted a healthy life. Prioritizing health—especially in light of the ever-mounting public health challenges—could bring the kind of attention needed to improve wellness at the individual and national levels.
People worldwide are united in their quest for a fulfilled life, but it’s clear that not everyone’s path to it will look the same. Perhaps the most important takeaway from the study, then, is to think inside-out rather than outside-in when defining one’s path to fulfillment. Societal pressures and norms can steer us towards certain definitions of meaning that conflict with our natural tendencies and prevent us from living a fulfilled life. As inherited wisdom indicates—the journey begins with the traveler and not the road.
There are numerous resources available that can help people around the world define and lead a more fulfilled life. Abbott, a leading health care company, is committed to helping people live the best life possible. Their website, newsletter and Living Fully survey feature lifehacks for work or personal time like those listed below. These are great tools for those ready to lead a more fulfilled and meaningful life, starting today.
This article was produced on behalf of Abbott by the Scroll.in marketing team and not by the Scroll.in editorial staff.