People who feel fulfilled with their life are more likely to do well at work, be less stressed, and have fewer sick days and psychological or social problems. During the last five years, there has been increasing evidence supporting the association of happiness/fulfillment with life and being able to use your strengths. In addition, there is definitive information which tells us which strengths are necessary and the ingredients the brain needs to experience fulfillment.
Do you have these key strengths and ingredients?
First you need to know what the brain needs. Gregory Berns a neuroscientist and psychiatrist at Emory University, believes the feeling of satisfaction is necessary to feel fulfilled in life. In his book, Satisfaction: the Science of Finding True Fulfillment, he concludes that fulfillment requires two important ingredients that nature has designed our brains to crave: novelty and challenge.
Novelty in life releases the neurotransmitter dopamine which is associated with feelings of happiness and well-being. Stress which is associated with a challenge releases the hormone cortisol. In high levels, cortisone is damaging to our body mentally and physically. However, in smaller amounts, it can elevate mood, increase concentration and improve memory making you more effective. When these two chemicals interact, the stage is set for strong feelings of fulfillment.
Second, research by doctors Nansook Park, Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman have found that there are five key signature/character strengths which are closely and consistently related to life satisfaction:
1. Gratitude being aware of and thankful for the good things that happen; taking time to express thanks.
2. Optimism expecting the best in the future and working to achieve it; believing that a good future is something that can be brought about.
3. Zest approaching life with excitement and energy; living life as an adventure; feeling alive and active; not doing things halfway or halfheartedly.
4. Curiosity taking an interest in an ongoing experience for its own sake; finding subjects and topics fascinating; exploring and discovering.
5. Love valuing close relationships, in particular those in which sharing and caring are reciprocated; being close to people.
Do you have these five strengths? The best news is that if these strengths are not high for you, you can increase them. For instance, to increase:
1. Gratitude, count your blessings by writing down three things you are grateful for or appreciate stating “why”. Do this several times a week. Be sure to do it when you are having a tough day.
2. Optimism, practice “savoring” the joys of life instead of “stewing” on problems. When you have a problem, be specific about who or what is involved, and stay in the present. Stop generalizing about problems or projecting them into the future.
3. Zest, do something that you already do but with more energy, or include some creative or different ways of doing it. Notice an increase in energy when you are savoring even momentary pleasures.
4. Curiosity, get more information about something you are interested in; ask questions; be open to new ideas.
5. Love, spend time and energy with family and friends. Strong personal relationships bring a high level of satisfaction with life.
In summary, the key to increasing your fulfillment with life is to look for novelty and opportunities to challenge yourself in each of the above strengths. Working with a coach is a way to practice improving one or more of these strengths while keeping your stress at a level that is helpful to you. Coaching helps hold you accountable while giving support.
Using some of these five strengths, how can you find opportunities for novelty and challenge that will increase your level of fulfillment?