Why A “Full Life” Isn’t The Key To Fulfillment

Life doesn't have to be filled to the brim to be fulfilling. Here’s how I learned that true fulfillment is about doing less, not more.

Post Updated on February 5, 2021

I think you’ll agree that we’re all seeking a fulfilling life. Those late nights searching for your life’s purpose? We’ve all been there. We want to wake up happy and spend our days feeling satisfied, yet that’s rarely the case. It’s hard to feel fulfilled sometimes.

The funny thing is that when something feels off in life, our reaction is often to add more to our plates. We take on more because it means more excitement and less boredom, right?

Life doesn't have to be filled to the brim to be fulfilling. Here’s how I learned that true fulfillment is about doing less, not more.

After burning out in 2019, I learned that this isn’t always the case. I realized that I cannot keep taking on more simply because I feel unfulfilled. Truthfully, there’s fulfillment to be found in doing fewer things. In this post, I’m sharing why you don’t need to fill your life to the brim with activities and plans to make it fulfilling.

Why a full life doesn’t equal fulfillment


When you think of a “full life”, you might immediately think of travel, parties, and experiencing new things (many of the things we can’t do in the state of the world right now). Somehow that’s become the vision of what it means to live a fulfilling life.

But life doesn’t have to be brimming with activities to be satisfying. You don’t have to fill every moment of the day with something to do because you think it will make you more content. I say that, yet I’ve adopted the opposite mindset for most of my life.

In college, I juggled my coursework, a student job, sorority, editing the sociology magazine, being a note-taker, mentoring students, and maintaining friendships and a relationship. Looking back on it, I’m not sure how on earth I managed to do that.

Life doesn't have to be filled to the brim to be fulfilling. Here’s how I learned that true fulfillment is about doing less, not more.

Then again in 2019, I thought working three jobs would make my life more rewarding. All it did was stress me out (and this is coming from someone with decent time management skills).

That year taught me that I cannot keep overscheduling myself. I realized that I needed to lower my self-expectations and be okay with doing a few things instead of every.single.thing.

I think I took on so much because I didn’t want people to think I was lazy. Or maybe it was because I didn’t want to think of myself as lazy. All it really did was make me feel like I was continually chasing my tail.

Forcing life to be “full” can lead to less fulfillment. In fact, a busy life can prevent you from being present most of the time. If you don’t have a chance to slow down and pause sometimes, it’s hard to appreciate the moment you’re in.

Related Post: Feel Like You’re Not Doing Enough? Read This.

If you don’t have a chance to slow down and pause sometimes, it’s hard to appreciate the moment you’re in.

What fulfillment really looks like


I’m not saying that life should be empty, but it doesn’t need to be go-go-go to be fulfilling. A fulfilling life can be quiet and unassuming.

As I write this post now, I’m in the moment; I’m sitting at my desk, listening to music, and letting my thoughts unfold. I could think of so many other things I need or want to do, but I’m enjoying this as it is. This moment is nothing special, but it’s so very special at the same time. 

Life doesn't have to be filled to the brim to be fulfilling. Here’s how I learned that true fulfillment is about doing less, not more.

It might not sound exciting, but maybe that’s why we get hung up on the concept of fulfillment. We assume fulfilling means exciting, but sometimes it’s simple, calm, and understated. 

We also get stuck when we think we need to feel fulfilled every second of the day. If you don’t feel fulfilled all the time, it doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong.

Fulfillment is a balancing act between moments of joy and moments of stillness. One of the hardest things is learning to be okay with this duality of life.

Fulfillment is a balancing act between moments of joy and moments of stillness.

You don’t have to rush to add new things to your life when you feel unfulfilled. Perhaps you need to reduce or remove instead. After all, it’s better to do a few things extraordinarily well than many things in a mediocre fashion.

Often we can find more fulfillment simply by paying attention. Notice every now and again when you feel a sense of calm. When you’re going for a walk, notice how you put one foot in front of the other without thinking about it. Sometimes that in itself is enough to amaze me and bring me a sense of contentment.

Related Post: 5 Tips To Pause Hustle Mode And Slow Down


What does a fulfilling life mean to you?

I hope this post has given you something to think about when it comes to making your own life fulfilling. Remember that what’s fulfilling to others may not be fulfilling to you. Listen to what you want, and try not to get distracted by what everyone else is doing.

If this post resonated with you, I’d love if you shared it with someone who might enjoy it!

Tags : mindfulness
Catherine Beard
Hi, I'm Catherine! I'm here to help you get out of your head so you can stress less and focus on what matters.

13 Comments

  1. I’m in agreement here. I used to equate fulfilling with more things to do. And sometimes it’s hard to reconcile doing less when you’re thinking of making ends meet or maintaining income for even a simple lifestyle. My lifestyle is as simple as it can be, yet I still feel the call to do less. It’s quite a conundrum at times. But after the past few years I prefer doing less than trying to constantly strive for something. I’ve seen too many people burnout…people I thought were doing all the “right ” things. For a time, I actually thought I was behind. But I am actually right where I need to be. Doing less is better for the soul. The soul is ultimately all that really matters.

    1. Yes, absolutely! And sometimes you do have to do more to make ends meet, but it’s quite different if you’re taking on too many responsibilities just for the sake of wanting to be/look busy.

  2. I really enjoy your blog. I share it with my team at work all the time. It also gives me something to think about and prompts me to make changes in my life for the better. Thanks Sue

  3. ”doing a few things instead of every.single.thing” I absolutely agree with this. For so long I was a people pleaser trying to do everything to make others happy, so it really hits home for me. Right now in my life, fulfilment comes from doubling down on doing the few things that bring me joy.

  4. Hi! I am so glad I read this today! As a student, I tend to be busy all the time, but as the new semester is coming up, I was actually thinking of dropping some extracurricular activities so that I could have more time for other things. I was worried at first because I have been doing these activities for years, but now I am not so concerned about it. I taught me that sometimes less is better and that I don’t have to do everything at school. Thank you!

  5. What a wonderful reminder. The more time we spend on listening, the more in-tuned we become with gut. Lesser distractions we have in our lives, the more time we can allocate for things and relationships that matter the most <3

  6. I am still a student and I had the same mindset too. For me, the word fulfilling is about being able to accomplish different kinds of things in a span of one day. I think we have a mindset where we think that everyday we should be able to accomplish and achieve something. Back then, I find myself boring, because I think there’s nothing special about me, so when I was in elementary and high school, I would participate on several school organizations for extracurricular. I don’t deny that it was also a fun experience. Also, when there’s a group activity in school, I remembered doing it all by myself because I felt responsible for it. But as I grew older, I tend to notice that those kinds of things aren’t only the way to find self-fulfillment. Same as you, I began to slow down things a bit because I want to appreciate these moments. Most important lesson I learned was to ask for some help when I needed it, because I realize that there’s nothing wrong asking for help. The self-fulfillment wouldn’t be less even if someone helps you. Thank you for sharing this, I was able to reminisce those days!

  7. The more time we spend listening, the more in tune we become with our gut instinct. The less distractions we have in our life, the more time we have to devote to the activities and people that are most important to us. What a lovely reminder. 

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