The Difference Between Happiness and Fulfillment.

The waters are murky on the relationship between happiness and fulfillment. Some see them as the same, often a goal to make oneself as happy as possible. Or perhaps they see fulfillment as a byproduct of happiness or vice-versa. Often in life the things which make us the least happy are what make us the most fulfilled. The completion of a particularly difficult, strenuous and taxing challenge is the moment we feel most fulfilled. The elation that goes along with this is where people mistake it for happiness. However, we don’t only feel fulfillment upon completion of a difficult task but throughout it, every minor challenge overcome, or variation imagined gives a sense of it.

Cooking is sedentary, mind-numbing work with occasional periods of frantic action. Just describing it as such makes it sound wholly unappealing, but we all know the satisfaction of completing a meal that goes beyond simply enjoying the food. A more peculiar example is children. Irrespective of the evolutionary prerogatives in place people tend to enjoy the exceptionally long and entirely physically unrewarding task of raising children. Which is to say that despite there being no real-world net gain monetarily, socially, hierarchically or otherwise, people still feel fulfilled while raising a child. Why is this? Surely, it’s more than just the necessity to procreate. And indeed, it is the overcoming of adversity that creates satisfaction and the desire to really, meaningfully do well at something; anything.

Happiness is harder to pin down. In some ways it is the satisfactory feeling of completing a task, in another it’s the lucky break of winning the lottery and another still of seeing an old friend and reconnecting after years apart. Happiness is the emergent property of positive influences on our life. The sum is greater than its parts, is a saying that is often overlooked because of the apparent surface level nature of the statement which is baffling when considering in just how many ways the emergent properties of the sum of many things creates a foundation that quite literally make life possible.

I believe this is the reason people struggle to differentiate between happiness and fulfillment because of the nature of the two and their relation as a part, to a sum of a part on many different levels. Just as fulfillment can be a bit part player in the emergence of happiness. Happiness or contentedness with life can be a part of the sum of fulfillment. The paradoxical nature of both being emergent properties of a part of the other and that they are undeniably linked seems evidence enough to say they’re one and the same and yet we can for the most part agree that they’re not. Fulfillment is the self-satisfaction one feels when and while completing a goal, this is the part that contributes to a sum; as the sum fulfillment is the contentedness one feels upon having a momentarily complete life. Fulfillment is a goal to constantly strive towards and only rarely obtained, that’s what makes obtaining it synonymous with happiness. Whereas happiness is the way in which we know what we’re doing is what we actually want to do.