How To Have A Fulfilling Life

How To Have A Fulfilling Life


Remember, for the majority of your waking hours, you’ll be at work. That’s a lot of time to spend being miserable and/or surrounded by people whose company you don’t enjoy.

Is there a key to living a happy and fulfilling life? Science, it seems, says yes. According to the Harvard Grant Study, which followed several hundred American men — all of them white but of different backgrounds — over the course of 70 to 80 years, happiness isn’t achieved by material gain, professional success or the wielding of power, though those do, of course, matter. 

More important, says George Vaillant, who directed the study for over 30 years and recently published a book on it, is the sense of connectivity with other people: your relationships and love. According to Vaillant, the friendships and connections you make with other people ultimately matter more to your happiness, especially later in life, than amassing wealth. The old adage that “Money doesn’t buy happiness” is now officially sanctioned by science. 

Vaillant adds that being connected to your work also matters (again, to a degree — more so for some than others). But to a growing number of young entrepreneurs, happiness, professional satisfaction, relationships and financial stability are all part of the same package — and are all achievable. 

Some of them are at the forefront of what’s called the B-Corp movement: benefit corporations, companies that do good while making money, whether by donating a pair of glasses or shoes for every one sold retail, or selling better construction materials

Here are some people who decided that the best way to live life is on their terms, and the lessons you can learn from their success. 

Enjoy Whatever It Is You Are Doing

This may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s always worth emphasizing. Remember, for the majority of your waking hours, you’ll be at work. That’s a lot of time to spend being miserable and/or surrounded by people whose company you don’t enjoy. 

Jon Rose founded Waves for Water in 2009. The charity provides simple, cheap and easy-to-use water filters to people who, due to natural disasters or lack of infrastructure, don’t have access to clean water. It’s done using an unusual delivery system: footloose surfers. Rose recruits fellow surfers and asks them to bring the filters along with them as they travel the globe looking for waves to ride. 

And although surfing and surfers have certain peculiar lifestyle associations tagged to them, delivering water filters is an important job, with very serious real world consequences. But that hasn’t stopped the 35-year-old from having a good time. 

“I always like to bring everything back to center, to my driving force, my DNA, which is completely based around fun,” he says. “My dad used to ask me when I was a kid if I was having fun when I was doing something. If I said no, he’d say, ‘Then why are you doing it?’ I’ve never lost sight of this. Our entire mantra for W4W is, Go do what you love, and help along the way. So that’s exactly what we do — we go out into the world and follow our passion, and then we plug the purpose into that — not the other way around.” 


Be True to Your Yourself

Everyone knows the story of the scorpion and the frog, right? Aesop’s story about the scorpion stinging the frog, even though it means they both will drown, because the scorpion cannot fight its own nature? There are a couple of morals there, aside from not giving a lift to a scorpion. One is, your true nature will come out, one way or another, so it’s best you don’t fool yourself into thinking you’re something you’re not, even if you are making a lot of money doing it. If you want to give up an advertising career to pursue comics, for instance, you can do it; you’ll make a lot less money, but you may very well wind up being happy — and you might inspire someone else to do the same. 

Bill Watterson should know. The reclusive creator of Calvin and Hobbes, arguably the greatest newspaper comic strip in history, quit a lousy job as a graphic designer before he became a full-time comics artist. There’s a good chance you’ve read his inspiring quote that’s everywhere on social media these days, the one attached to a wonderfully drawn homage to Watterson by Australian illustrator Gavin Aung Than. It goes like this: “Creating a life that reflects your values and satisfies your soul is a rare achievement. In a culture that relentlessly promotes avarice and excess as the good life, a person happy doing his own work is usually considered an eccentric, if not a subversive. Ambition is only understood if it’s to rise to the top of some imaginary ladder of success… To invent your own life’s meaning is not easy, but it’s still allowed, and I think you’ll be happier for the trouble.” 

Aung Than thinks the quote pretty much describes his life: He himself gave up an unsatisfying though lucrative job as a graphic designer to concentrate on his own personal projects. The point, though, isn’t that creative people are better people than suits — it’s that creative people will usually be unhappy if forced to adopt a suit’s values and lifestyle. 

Watterson is right. Creating the right life for you can be tough, but it is still allowed.

Passion Is Its Own Reward

If you really want to make a difference, be prepared to shed sweat and tears (probably not blood, though). For some, the desire to make life better for others makes their life harder. Take Steve Larosiliere of STOKED, a nonprofit that mentors at-risk youth through action sports like surfing and snowboarding. The 37-year-old took a big risk and, happily, it paid off — eventually. 

“When I first started, I made a lot of personal sacrifices,” he says.” I didn’t know anyone in the action sports industry and had no experience running a nonprofit. I personally went into debt, couch surfed and relied on mentors to guide me along the way. I wouldn’t change anything about my path; because of it I, too, feel like the young people that we serve.” 

Note that Larosiliere says he relied on mentors. So as well as providing the kindness of strangers, he benefited from it too. Mentoring can have an invaluable impact on people’s lives, both for the mentor and the protégé. Mentors build leadership and communication skills, learn new perspectives and enjoy the satisfaction of seeing a young person advance in his or her field. The protégé takes in benefits of experience, learns about the field, understands issues from different angles and builds a professional network. 


Take A Look Around

Who gets help? There are billions of people around the world who could benefit from a helping hand in one way or another, but sober realities — time, money, mortality, general lack of superpowers — ensure that help is better given by focusing on specific needs. So that means zeroing in on achievable, tangible goals. They don’t have to be modest — by all means, aim as high as you dare. But sharing inspiration and opportunity can be easier, more efficient and more rewarding by doing it close to home. 

Over at STATE Bags, 34-year-old Scot Tatelman realized that the best way to make a difference for underfunded communities was to go there and immerse himself in them. Thus the GiveBackPack program. Tatelman’s company donates one backpack to underprivileged kids for every one it sells retail, and does so by sending child-development specialists — usually young, hyper-energetic people — to schools to giving upbeat, fun, motivational speeches. 

There are billions of people around the world who could benefit from a helping hand in one way or another, but sober realities — time, money, mortality, general lack of superpowers — ensure that help is better given by focusing on specific needs.

“There is a genuine need right here in the States,” says Tatelman. “I try and engulf myself as much as I can in the neighborhoods so I am continually reminded as to why we do what we do… and why it’s essential to strive to do it differently.” 

He adds that his company doesn’t end its connection with the kids it helps after they drop off the bags. He thinks engaging with them, talking with them and being interested in their lives will inspire them long after the STATE PackMen (the child-development specialists) leave. “We are about more than just a material handout,” he says. They’re about “positive messaging and role-modeling as well.” 

Take It All In

Everybody needs a kick in the rear from time to time. Having the willingness to do something good for someone else is easy; the hard part is getting up the gumption to actually do it. All it took for Aran Dasan was quitting a boring technical job to pursue his passion of getting people to eat bugs. 

The 27-year-old Londoner behind ento, a company that is pushing insect-based cuisine on an unsuspecting Western palate, wants us to change the way we eat to something more sustainable and healthy. As anyone interested in eating insects will tell you, a lot of them are chock full of protein, low in fat and cholesterol, and a good source of nutrients like omega-3. He argues that insects are also a far more efficient way of consuming protein per pound and take up for less arable land to cultivate. 

But what Aran and his co-founders did was look at edible insect production systemically — putting their engineering background to use to develop a sustainable method of harvesting food in a rapidly growing, and ever hungry, world. 

He says he actively seeks people whose energy and passion seep into him. He gets jazzed by “looking up my heroes — people that really inspire me, whose work I really enjoy, or who live life with a philosophy I admire (a lot of these people I enjoy having as friends). Whenever I’m in a rut, or need a change in general, I talk to these people, and get excited about projects, plans and life again.” 

But Dasan also adds that he likes to be the one inspiring other people, too. Whether it’s by having the drive to take a concept that might repel most people and running with it, or by simply being a good friend, the choices we make and the things we do have a ripple effect on the people around us. So even if your choices don’t lead to immediate tangible benefits, be aware that what you are doing is not going unnoticed.

Care About Others, But Don’t Forget To Care About Yourself

Giving back is good. But, like a tired parent, even the best givers need a break. Q-Mars Imandel is an expert on investing in yourself, despite his young age (29). Although he runs The GIVE Project, a small organization in L.A. that does raw- and natural-food-related good deeds like giving the homeless fresh juice, Imandel says that by living the life you want, the life that you envisioned for yourself and feel is your destiny, you set the example and inspire others to do the same.

Imandel writes in an email, “One time I posted a YouTube video about ‘Investing in YOU,’ sharing about how important it is to not only invest in business, real estate and other financial avenues… but also to invest in YOURSELF by doing things that feel good to you and make you feel like you are caring for yourself. This could be a massage every week, going horseback riding regularly or anything that makes you feel good.”

Imandel says that by living the life you want, the life that you envisioned for yourself and feel is your destiny, you set the example and inspire others to do the same.

It makes sense: Who’d take advice, or anything else, from people who are always crabby because they spend all their time thinking of other people? Treat yourself right, and others may want to treat themselves right, too.

Change Is (Almost) Always Good

On a planet with a growing population and dwindling resources, everyone from local governments to international agencies are worrying about access to vital, life-sustaining necessities like food and water, and how to share them properly. One movement that’s been gaining traction over the past decade or so is that of rooftop farming — growing sustainable, healthy food right in the heart of the city, and selling them in large (-ish) quantities.

One of the more successful entrepreneurs who got into the rooftop gardening game in a big way is Montreal’s Mohamed Hage. The 32-year-old’s Lufa Farms opened its first commercial rooftop greenhouse in 2011 and is committed to growing urban farming as a large-scale supplement to traditional factory farming. All its food is organically grown, produced locally and pesticide-free, and uses recycled and rainwater to avoid overtaxing the city’s water system. By moving away from traditional industrial growing techniques, he says Lufa is “rethinking the food chain.”

It’s a pretty bold rethink of the way we consume, but Hage believes that’s the point: We have to adapt to changing circumstances. It’s not a new concept, but it is a powerful one if you approach it with the right frame of mind. “I think of change as evolution that we can directly affect,” he says. “I believe that we need to constantly strive to make our lives better. Every day is an opportunity to advance.”


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