The joy of non-fulfillment

I don’t know exactly where the initial question came from, but it arose one day about a week ago: how do we cope when we feel unfulfilled?

I asked myself this question, and then I started asking others.

“How do you deal with not feeling fulfilled?”

“When you don’t feel fulfilled, what is your standard operating procedure?”

I played a mock game-show version of “Family Feud” with a group of college students to explore trends in self-care in the face of not feeling fulfilled.

It seemed that every time I asked the question differently, I got a different answer.

If I simply reversed the order of the phrase, I got a different answer.

“In the face of not feeling fulfilled, people do what things?” got different answers than “People do what things in the face of not feeling fulfilled?”

Or perhaps the multitude of answers was caused by the fact that it seemed every person had a different answer.

I posted on Facebook for the “hivemind” to give input. In that instance, I asked for help to “compile a list of categories people do to cope with not feeling fulfilled.” It was a VERY popular post.

Often, when I entered into discussion with people in person or by phone, the definition of “what it might mean to feel fulfilled” came up. I came up with a working definition of fulfillment as “being with joy, being present.”

I heard a lot – explicitly and just under the surface – about societal pressure not to be content with yourself as you are when and where you are.

Wow. That’s painful. That our society seemingly is anti-fulfillment. Yikes. Therapist, please.

I have some more thoughts I’d like to share with you.

This concludes the introduction to this article. If you would like to continue, please do so below.




One of the best answers I recieved was a top ten list from my brother-in-law, Bob.

He put a heading in a text, “What do we do when we don’t feel fulfilled,” and then wrote out ten answers.

Bob’s top ten lists can go one of two ways. Side-splittingly hilarious or poignant. This was the latter.

Even better than the top ten answers was the one he wrote below that. A recap, a summary, a late addition.

These are his words:

“We project our inner disappointment outward and find blame in other things that really have nothing to do with our situation.” – Bob Beuth



We project out inner disappointment outward and find blame in other things that really have nothing to do with our situation.

What are things that I do in the face of not feeling fulfilled?

  • I do all the other ones – eat pizza, drink, cry, get depressed, and isolate.
  • I attempt to convince myself that drive-thru joy is the same as happiness. I load up on pleasures.
  • I try to do things that might help me undo the feeling of unfulfilled.

But the biggest one is probably what Bob said.

  • I project my inner disappointment out.

To my family, I apologize. I project out my frustrations onto you more than anyone. I’m humble and sorry.


I’m going to assume that you might arrive at the same conclusion:

The biggest obstacle to my sense of fulfillment isn’t outside circumstances.
It’s me.





Larry is my BFF. He is in a tie with my son for being the most kindhearted, sincere, guileless person I know.

As Larry is 70 years older than Emmett, Larry is a bit more eloquent in his wisdom.

I called Larry twice about this topic.

The first time we talked, we talked about Jeremy Bentham and the human desire to avoid pain and pursue pleasure.

We talked about the pursuits of additions and distractions. Our culture is driven by MORE, FAST, EASY, FUN.

Yet, those, like candy for dinner, are tasty, but not filling.

Drive-thru joy just doesn’t cut it.

When a person cannot find a deep sense of meaning, they distract themselves with pleasure. – Victor Frankl


The second time I called Larry, we explored an idea inspired by C.S.Lewis and his words on joy.

Joy must be heralded.

It’s four simple words: Joy must be heralded. For if it is not heralded – if it is not acknowledged – if the moment of meaning and fulfillment goes unnoticed, then it is as the tree in the forest with no one to hear its noise.

Alan Watts spoke about the fact that our eyes have the ability to see the colors of a rainbow, and that’s the very thing that creates the rainbow. It’s that idea. Joy does not exist when it is not acknowledged. 

The heralding of joy, the acknowledgment of fulfillment, is required.

Which led us to good news: fulfillment can be reverse engineered.

Larry loves to talk about the connection between emotion and action. That the one drives the other, and the other drives the one. You cannot love without acting on that love, and when you stop acting on it, you stop feeling it.

The behavior drives the feeling, and the feeling drives the behavior.

The heralding of joy makes the joyous, fulfilled feeling.

That is the brilliance of a sabbath – something our culture sucks at – taking a breath, taking a break.

Anyone with a regular spiritual practice – yoga, meditation, Sabbath or other weekly religious services, regularly scheduled “religious” exercise – knows that it is the break, and it is the HERALDING of it, that leads to fulfillment. If I jog but do not notice how it feels, if I do not herald my time in the dark, cool morning with the stars, it just isn’t as fulfilling as when I come home and tell my family about it.

Here’s a basic tenet of a spiritual-religious life: Acknowledge joy(Even if you have to fake it until you make it a little.)

Do you want more?

Do you want a quick ROTB exercise that is GUARANTEED to give you two hints towards your sense of fulfillment?

I have an andrological technique (pertaining to adults, as opposed to pedagogical which is geared towards children) technique that will move your needle 10-15% with regard to your own sense of fulfillment.

You get personalized results that will point you towards feeling more fulfilled.

It’s a brilliant 10-minute exercise. With guaranteed results. If you do not feel it was worth the $54 to get your two tips, I’ll happily refund your money and attempt to have you returned to your previous sense of fulfillment.

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