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White limbs arch overhead; sycamores fracturing the pale blue sky. Cool air freshens my cheeks as I inhale a delicious combination of decaying leaves and the sweet baby strapped to my chest. He had been crying unrelentingly just moments before our walk. Now he watches the park with wide eyes and silent reverence. We both find fulfillment here.
Such was the forest bath I took as suggested in Jonathan Fields’s new book How to Live a Good Life. The main idea is that we need to find fulfillment to be happy, and that requires bodily vitality, connecting to others, and contributing to the world. Here are the ways I do that on a daily basis.
Check Your Buckets
Jonathan analogizes finding fulfillment to filling buckets labeled vitality, connection, and contribution. On any given day, ask yourself which of these buckets need filling and don’t let any bucket get too low.
For vitality, ask if you feel energized, fit, as free from pain and disease as possible, present in the moment, nimble to change, grateful, and growing.
Connection requires feeling unconditional love, connected to good friends, a sense of community, connection to a higher power and to the environment.
For contribution, we need to feel our work is meaningful, work up to our full potential, align our values with our actions, and feel passionate about our work. This is true whether our work is paid or unpaid.We need to feel our work is meaningful, aligns with our values, and feel passionate about our work.Click To Tweet
Bucket-Topping Exercises to Find Fulfillment
How to Live a Good Life is premised on the idea that long term happiness sometimes requires actions that don’t necessarily make you feel happy in the short term. The natural consequence of these actions, however, is finding fulfillment in a good life. Which we want because fulfilled people are happy people.
For example, Jonathan suggests that to fill our vitality bucket, we eat more greens, sleep more, and engage in regular exercise. On their face, these don’t seem like very fun activities. But long term, if we are healthier, better rested, and more physically capable, we’ll have more energy and be better able to enjoy all of life’s gifts.
You don’t have to engage in drudgery though to find fulfillment. Gamifying these exercises is a great way to inject playfulness and turn a chore into a fun event.
Eat More Greens Challenge
Jonathan suggests eating more greens by drinking yummy green smoothies, trying out different recipes to make it more fun. I chose to gamify mine by doing a 30-day challenge, the Whole30, where I increased my green intake significantly.
Sleep 8 Hours A Night
For sleep, you can use a habit tracker app like Today to challenge yourself to a streak of 30 nights of 8 hours of sleep. Or you can write it down old school in a habit tracker layout in your bullet journal or planner.
Make Exercise Fun
Regular exercise doesn’t have to suck either. I’ve gamified my swimming and ski conditioning by using the one-minute high intensity interval training workout and my fitness tracker. Riding horses twice a week is a huge strengthener as well and I do not think of it as exercise at all. Instead, it’s playtime for adults. Many people hike, mountain bike, dance, or play tennis to keep in shape. The point is to find something physical you like doing and do it regularly. The gym is not required unless you like it!
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Feeling connected to friends, community, and something greater than ourselves is key to finding fulfillment. There are lots of ways to fill your connection bucket but here are three suggestions from Jonathan that really helped me.
Try a Loving Kindness Meditation
Meditation is great for feeling connected to the present moment, but did you know it could also connect you to your fellow (wo)man?
In a loving kindness meditation you start meditating on your own happiness. After a few moments, you move on to meditating on a loved one’s happiness, then a neutral person’s happiness, followed by a person you struggle with. The meditation ends by meditating on the happiness of all beings.
Loving kindness meditation is a proven way to increase empathy and compassion, connecting you to your community and filling up your bucket.
Connect to a Power Greater Than Yourself
You can also try strengthening your connection to a power greater than yourself. This doesn’t have to be God, but can be if that’s your belief. If you do not believe in God, you can sub-in the ocean, the wind, or humanity.
Strengthen your connection to whatever it is you believe in that is more powerful than you. Maybe you make it a practice to go to church weekly, pray in the morning, or listen to the sound of the ocean during your meditation.
Eliminate “Energy Vampires”
Another great exercise is to increase your connection to others by decreasing your connection to those who steal your energy. Jonathan calls these “energy vampires.” It seems counter-intuitive, but sometimes you have to stop connecting in one area to strengthen connection in another.
Energy vampires only want to take from you — time, energy, money, emotional support — and are never satisfied with what you give. You will end up dumping all of your resources into them and have nothing left for relationships where you give and receive. These are the relationships where we find fulfillment. Energy vampires must be identified and time with them must be limited or completely cut off.
Honestly, filling my contribution bucket has been my greatest struggle. As a stay-at-home-mom, I know that parenting is a valuable contribution, but I do not feel that it is my passion. It took a lot of soul-searching to figure out that my passion is helping others find fulfillment. I love to do that through writing this blog, but I know there are other ways I can do that as well. I finally figured out this contribution piece by working through the exercises in Jonathan’s book.
Focus on Your Core Values
First, I identified my five core values as family, empathy, integrity, justice, and growth. Then, as suggested, I turned those into action sentences.
For family, I want to provide a safe, secure and loving home in which my children and my husband can thrive and have their needs met. I want to create a safe space from which they can launch their dreams.
For growth, I want to keep a growth mindset so that I do not stagnate. I want to always be striving to be better, more efficient, kinder, happier, and more fulfilled so that my family is always getting the best version of me.
Writing action statements like this for each of my core values helped me focus on what is really important to me. Then, when I start to spin my wheels on something, like I have to get a job, any job, I can check back on my core values and see if my actions are in line with them.
“Think Ripple, Not Wave”
Another great tip that I have to remind myself of daily is to “think ripple, not wave.” It is very rare that a person starts out their adult life as a wave of intensely focused, core-value-aligned, effective contribution. Oprah started as a weather girl. Jonathan Fields started as an unhappy lawyer. Glennon Doyle Melton started out publishing blog posts in her closet at 5am with very little readership.
All of these highly successful people started their work as a small ripple. The ripples joined together over time creating the powerful wave they ride today. But we all start as ripples, affecting just those nearest to us. If we focus there, our ripple too will become a wave.We start as ripples, affecting just those nearest to us. But our ripple soon will become a wave.Click To Tweet
Find fulfillment. It sounds like a treasure hunt that just requires a map and some tenacity. The truth is that it is a lifelong journey, not a destination. Living a good life requires continuous contribution to all the aspects of our being that will create fulfillment.
Of course, it takes a while to gain momentum when you focus on the big picture. But a few months into my good life project and I can feel I’m gaining ground. Figure out which bucket needs filling and concentrate on that. The wave of happiness will come.
How do you find fulfillment? Let me know in the comments!
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