The Trouble with Happiness and the Forgotten Path to Fulfilment

A series of encounters with human behavioural specialist Dr Demartini changed my interpretation of happiness and provided me with an unexpected secret to lasting fulfilment.

Happiness or Fulfilment?

“I prefer the term ‘fulfilment’ and not ‘happiness,’” replied human development specialist Dr Demartini in an interview I conducted for an online publication I had timidly started a few years ago. My question was: How do you define happiness?

I was off to a wrong start. I gazed over the question list, ready to move to the next in line, but then something happened. For those unfamiliar with Dr Demartini’s talks and his work as a behavioural teacher and motivator, the man was not short on words. In fact, I found him unreserved, chatty, and a veritable Encyclopaedia of knowledge. I also found him honest and straightforward, particularly in an industry where self-imposed egos, tales of fabulous riches and beating around the bush were not so uncommon.

“There is a reason for my choice,” he continued. He liked the idea of fulfilment because it embraced both sides of life, the pros and the cons, the balance equally provided by blessings and challenges. It expressed the full circle of life, the “full” in fulfilment.

To his knowledge, people perceived happiness as terribly one-sided, opposed to negativity and sadness. People viewed happiness as a one-dimensional destination. I made a mental note to replace happiness with fulfilment in the subsequent questions. Although the terms were highly interchangeable in everyday talk, I wanted to highlight the present difference as best as I could.

In reality, the interpretation of happiness changed over the years. What defined fulfilment and wellbeing in your twenties would be different from when you were 30, 50, or 70. Fulfilment was a personal multi-faceted journey of continuous discovery and not an achievement. Changes were meant to happen along the journey.

Dr Demartini often mentioned in our talks seven areas of life, namely the financial, physical, mental (intellectual), vocational (career), spiritual, family, and social (I further read about an extra environmental component). I asked him if it was possible to experience fulfilment in all these areas, or if it was best to pay more attention to specifical areas of interest, and make a success out of those.

“There are no rules in life towards fulfilment,” came the response. Being a realist, I pushed towards a more detailed viewpoint. I was nearing my third decade around the time of this particular interview, and I was plagued by existential questions as much as I was curious about picking his brain.

He mentioned that, ideally, people could empower themselves in all areas of life, and some unconsciously expressed their desire to do so whenever they mentioned achieving balance. In truth, if you were not empowered in one aspect of your existence or the other, you would most probably become over-powered or give up your power to something or someone else.

For example, if you were not adamant at advancing your financial wellbeing, someone else would take control over your money situation. If you were not actively involved in getting yourself fitter and healthier, you would have slowly given the power to shape up your best body. The physical aspect of yourself would be at the mercy of poor dieting, lack of exercise and illness. It made perfect sense.

Moreover, focusing too closely only on one aspect of your life could be, again, detrimental to your overall wellbeing and happiness. I pictured a workaholic soul who had little time for anything else in his life. With everything interrelated in the grand scheme of life — health, relationships, career, money and so on -, there should be no order of importance, and no rules as to how people chose to live their lives.

Fulfilment, values, and expectations

There were no rules as to experiencing fulfilment, but there was one constant piece of wisdom that I learned from my interactions with Dr Demartini, and it was the most valuable of all:

Live according to your values.

Values, or priorities, dictated the things that were important, or least important in everyone’s life. There were no right or wrong answers. Every individual had an ingrained code of conduct in accordance with their unique set of talents and insights. When these values were supported, the person felt happy, excited, positive. When a value was challenged or overlooked, the person felt down, unmotivated and depressed. It was what we referred to as mood swings.

Our values, in essence, dictated how we see the world. Not only that, our lives consisted, as a result, of hierarchies of values. Our destinies reflected our values.

Dr Demartini enforced that “being true to yourself will produce more results and lasting fulfilment than any hype or delusion.”

The problem with happiness was just that: Over time, people set up unrealistic expectations in pursuit of happiness. And what was worse, some of these expectations were not even related to the set of values the person held dearly.

Dr Demartini facilitated thousands of ‘breakthrough sessions’ worldwide, helping people from all walks of life to find their true values and create their best lives. According to him, most people were delusional and lived in a fantasy. Some thought they could build wealth, find the right partner, or become successful in business without the values that would lead them there.

There was no point in accumulating financial wealth if you valued instant gratification above long-term investment strategies. Similarly, a long-lasting happy relationship would be improbable if you placed a low value on social interactions and family. Lastly, if you didn’t have a high value on business, finance and wealth building, growing a business would prove difficult, and it could eventually fail.

The Secret to Fulfilment?

Set realistic expectations that are in line with what you value the most.

Most feelings of anger, aggression, blame, criticism, despair and depression were results of unfounded expectations of somehow becoming the outcome -something or someone — without the support of those values that would lead to this outcome in the first place.

‘There is always a hierarchy of values,’ explained Dr Demartini, attributing this order process to our left side of the brain. An example I still remembered to this day, and a hard swallowing fact: unless you valued wealth in your top three highest priorities, you would not see the results of being wealthy in your lifetime. Ouch.

Fulfilment and the Purpose of Life

In Dr Demartini’s opinion, the knowledge of individual values was the quintessential characteristic of life fulfilment. The study of axiology, meaning the study of values, was the most important knowledge we could gather about human behaviour. Values dictated every decision we made and every action we took. Furthermore, these values were not just related to ethics or morality; values were everything that mattered to each of us.

If everyone had a unique set of priorities or values focused on the most and less important things in life, then the highest priority, or the top value, would be their life’s purpose, or the centre of their fulfilment. It would be what gave a person their utmost happiness, and could provide an answer to the question ‘Does everyone has a specific purpose to live for?’

In my first interview with Dr Demartini, which happened in 2011, he highlighted that a man’s purpose was an expression of his highest value. Life’s purpose revolved around what your life demonstrated as truly important to you. If you, for example, did not place any high value on building wealth, it would not happen.

The most efficient and effective pathway to fulfilment was to respond to the call of your highest value or priority. “It is what you are spontaneously inspired from within to fulfil, and through which to be of service.”

In our subsequent dialogues, Dr Demartini referred to this highest priority as the ‘telos’ or the ‘end in mind’. Teleology, the study of meaning and purpose, was thus derived from studying this highest value, or telos. Some called it life’s main calling or innermost desire. Napoleon Hill, the author of Think and Grow Rich, called it the ‘chief aim.’

I concluded that everyone’s highest value was the foundation of their life purpose. If everyone’s set of values evolved through their life stages, so too their individual purposes would gradually change. Everyone’s fulfilment path was essentially transforming, developing on the most important values at any given time. It sounded confusing at first, but when you looked at life’s cyclical nature and its stages, one would understand.

Fulfilment and Voids

Lastly, when we talked about the value determining process, which is important in finding one’s hierarchy of values, Dr Demartini mentioned something intriguing. He said that our values are determined by our voids as much as they are determined by our preferences, maybe more so.

“What we perceive as missing is most important to us. Our voids lead to our values, and our values lead to our destiny.” This fact would explain why people consider their most important values the ones they want to import themselves and bring to their awareness.

To prove the point, he shared his inspiring life story (born with physical deformities and told by a teacher that he would never amount to much in life because of his learning disability) as the catalyst for his life’s trajectory as a teacher, healer (chiropractor), international public speaker and best-selling author.

While he was publicly denied a normal future, he met a man when he was just seventeen years old, a man who inspired him to become a teacher and a healer. Dr Demartini started to value education and teaching after he was highly demotivated by, of all people, an educator.

He would not only progress to start his clinic in Texas and practice as a chiropractor but to expand his healing beyond the physical and build a business focused on human development, The Demartini Institute. Even if he did not realise it as a young boy at the time, the awareness of his shortcomings would fuel his desire to prove the contrary and inspire others to live their best lives.

His highest values, placed on education and teaching, became the cornerstone of his life. He mentioned the third value, travel (he held our interviews in the same location, a luxury hotel in central Sandton, Johannesburg). He considered himself grateful for having the opportunity to express these values in his everyday actions, by travelling the world and inspiring others through public speaking engagements and practical breakthrough sessions.

Every person he had ever helped to come to terms with their innermost priorities gave him a higher sense of fulfilment than the fact that he was, by today’s standards, a wealthy person. Here was a man who breathed what he treasured the most.

I consulted my questionnaire once more, and I hesitated. It sounded silly, but I asked him: Did he believe in luck? He didn’t dismiss it. He had encountered many opportunities through the years that he didn’t anticipate. Given all the planning and foresight people can do to create their futures, some opportunities would show up unannounced and exceed their greatest expectations.

“I believe in the saying ‘luck is when preparation meets opportunity.’ I have a question that I ask myself every day — how can whatever I experience now enable me to fulfil my dreams, my mission? The answers to this question and gratitude and love give me the freedom to live a blessed, full life.”

Could fulfilment come as simple as identifying your top priorities in life and having a go for it? If it were that easy, why so many people felt confused, scared, trapped, anxious, or unhappy?

I would find out soon why. Most people never ask themselves the right questions.

As I was wrapping up the interview, I scribbled on the notebook the bits and pieces I found revealing (although the recorder registered every word, I kept most of the good stuff in writing):

  • Live according to your values.
  • Set realistic expectations in line with your values.
  • Determine your values and priorities by what your life demonstrates.
  • Ask yourself how you spend your time, energy and money.
  • Ask yourself in which areas of life are you most organised, and in which you are most disorganised.
  • Ask yourself what you enjoy the most, and what disappoints you.
  • Ask yourself what is your highest priority and your lowest, based on the above.
  • Ask yourself how can whatever you experience now enable you to fulfil your highest value, your purpose.

I thanked the man for another eye-opening session, switched off the recorder, closed the notebook and grabbed my purse in time to run and catch the train back to the office.

There were many more questions in my head to be asked, and many more pages waiting to be filled, but that would be for another day. I had some homework to do. There would always be the next interview, but my happiness could not wait. And by that I meant fulfilment.

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