A few weeks ago, I read a tragic story about a 12-year-old girl named Molly, who suffered a traumatic brain injury in a bicycling accident. Despite her doctors’ best efforts and prayers from hundreds of thousands of people around the world, Molly sadly passed away within days of sustaining the injury.
Since her untimely death, her memory has been honored in many lovely ways. Every account that I have read about her short but well-lived life mentions that it was full of joy and happiness and that she made the most of every moment. In a chronicle of the devastating situation, her mother shared that Molly was a kind and passionate person who “made an immense difference in her 12 years.”
This story has stayed with me for many reasons. One of the main ideas that stands out is that, in her short time, Molly clearly lived a fulfilled life. I have been ruminating over that idea for days.
Exactly what does it mean to live a fulfilled life, and how did Molly manage to do it in 12 short years?
Despite how you might be feeling at this exact moment, I would bet that every one of us can think back to at least one time that we would consider to be the happiest moment of our lives. Maybe it was the birth of a child or landing a dream job. I would venture to say, though, that these moments of joy are surprisingly short. The feeling fades and life almost always goes back to normal soon after. But what if these moments of elation and fulfillment extended beyond the confines of time and were simply part of everyday life — at work and at home and as part of every relationship that we have with others?
Being fulfilled is part of a process of carrying on through failures and victories, rather than remaining focused on one specific moment. A fulfilling life comes from building habits that lead to joy.
Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” In this way, a fulfilled life is not defined by one moment of accomplishment; instead, it is a dedication to daily acts that over time create a satisfying and fulfilled life. According to a 2009 study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, it takes about 66 days for a new behavior to become automatic.
Read on to learn about five behaviors that you can adopt today that will help you quickly begin to lead a more fulfilling life at work and at home.
- Understand the value of contentment. The value of contentment is having an awareness of happiness in your life and being grateful. Contentment comes from having a positive mental attitude and focusing on good and positive things around you. There is a direct connection between the value of contentment and happiness.
- Stop fearing change. Fear of change stops us from taking action. Usually, a combination of anxiety, self-doubt and guilt are the main culprits here. Accept the idea that change can be a very positive force and is something to look forward to.
- Stop living in the past. Living in the past can make you lose sight of your present life. It can also cause you to miss out on new opportunities and steal your ability to enjoy the moment.
- Stop putting yourself down. Just about everyone struggles with self-esteem at some point in their lives. Listen to your innermost thoughts, process them, and reframe them. Believe that your worth is unique, infinite and divine.
- Stop overthinking everything. When you think too much, you are probably not making any forward progress. When you find yourself in the toxic cycle of indecision, acknowledge your successes, recognize automatic negative thinking, consider the bigger picture, and then act. And, remember, it is OK to make mistakes. We all do.
Living a fulfilled life is not easy. If it were, we would probably see lots more kindness in the world and less brutal negativity on social media and in other places. The road to a fulfilled life is filled with setbacks and stumbling blocks, for sure. But your habits define the life you live, and there is no better time than the present to start living a life that is full of joy and happiness, just like Molly.
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Kelly Brown is the Special Assistant to the Director of a public safety agency in Washington, D.C. In her 22 years in government, she has served in senior advisory roles within the executive offices of mayors and city administrators. Her career achievements include drafting the District of Columbia government’s first set of published customer service standards and conceptualizing engagement and culture pivot programs for upward of 40,000 employees. Kelly spends her spare time working on a collection of personal essays that she hopes to have published soon. She is passionate about language and about helping others find and cultivate their distinct voices, too.