As a therapist I often see people searching for fulfillment and meaning in their lives. Many people come into my office trying to figure out why they have so many beautiful things in their lives, but are unable to enjoy life. They often seek therapy because they are feeling unsettled and unhappy. This seems to not just be an individual struggle, but a societal struggle as well. It appears that as a society we have an abundance -- but we are struggling with high levels of depression and left feeling unsatisfied despite all of the beautiful stuff we surround ourselves with .
We might not have the concrete struggles that previous generations experienced, but we certainly do have our own struggles; in essence, they are of a different kind. When I look around I see so many people trying to fill their lives with more stuff, more people, more rewards, and more indulgences. But there is something to this culture that seems unable to fill itself up.
We remain hungry. We have become a society of consumers, spenders, and collectors of material things, measuring ourselves on this accumulation, but realizing that there is something unrealized that we are still looking for and craving. We want to feel full, but so many of us cannot recognize that full feeling when we have it, so we keep trying to fill up on the wrong things.
In order to illustrate this struggle I would like to share the story of Bill -- he is a man who looks as though he has it all, but feels very little joy in his life. Bill arrived at the first counselling session saying that he felt stuck and he feared his marriage was in trouble. He was starting to think the grass might be greener elsewhere. He wanted to figure out why he was not satisfied when he had realized so many of his financial and professional goals. In fact, he had all the ingredients to live an exceptional life, but something in his life that did not feel quite right.
He wants to enjoy his life and the fruits of his labour, but he finds himself feeling more disconnected, lonelier, depleted and increasingly unfulfilled. These are feelings many of us struggle with, but ultimately, this search for meaning and purpose can hit us in small ways or impact our lives at the core.
Bill is a successful business man in his mid-forties with his own business, an attractive wife, and two attractive children who go to private school, and yet, he still feels dissatisfied. Bill is actually in crisis although his life looks great from the outside. He has a big house, great clothes, and travels on luxury holidays at least twice a year. But Bill is feeling lost in his own life. He loves his family, but has trouble feeling engaged when he is with them.
When they go on holidays they stay in fancy resorts and do all the great activities one is supposed to do on these types of trips, yet Bill sometimes feels as if he is watching his children on a screen and he is separated from them. He says the things he is supposed to say, but his own voice does not sound real to him. He wonders if his family really knows him at all and if he knows them. He loves his wife and finds her attractive, but he feels that somehow he is a disappointment to her and he knows that she does not understand why he withdraws from her when she reaches out to him. He knows he has hurt her feelings and he feels guilty much of the time.
He travels a lot for work and misses his family when he is away, but when he is with them, he finds himself feeling irritated with the kids and unable to really connect with his wife. He cannot figure out his dissatisfaction, since he has everything he thought he wanted.
As his business has grown in success he has bought bigger houses, faster cars, and filled his life with all the amenities and luxuries. He finds himself increasingly questioning if he made the right choices, wondering what a different life might be like, and he is scared that he is more at ease when he is away from his family than when he is with them.
This was not the way he wanted his life to be. Bill is at risk to have an affair or leave his family, although he loves and values his wife and children. He fears that a messy divorce is around the corner for him. He is so disconnected from himself that he just cannot effectively connect with those around him, and although he has been trying to fill his life with more stuff, he is missing the opportunities to make real movement in his life.
Bill is certainly not the only one struggling with a feeling of disconnection in his life. We need to only have a quick look at those around us to see that many people are experiencing lives that look successful from the outside, but they are not feeling satisfied on the inside. We may think that they have every reason to be happy, but what looks as if it should be happiness is not always so. Most of us have struggled at some point with feeling disconnected from our own lives and not being able to enjoy the good things that are happening right now.
This is a common struggle in our materialistic society, but there is a way out of this dilemma. As Bill begins to be honest with himself about his struggles rather than detach himself, he will get more engaged in his relationships and his life. His focus was always ahead of him and all of the "stuff" he wanted and when he achieved his goals, he was surprised that he did not feel more joy.
He forgot that joy occurs right in the moment, and is not something to be shelved for the future. As he practices mindfulness and allows joy and pain in his life, he will begin to see the opportunity to build deeper relationships with those he loves, but he needs to be honest about his fears in order to make movement. As he gains comfort with allowing himself to feel more emotion, he will become more at ease with the emotions around him.
As Bill comes to understand the way to satisfaction is not through accumulating bigger and better material possessions he will experience a richer and more meaningful relationship with himself and others. This is the same for all of us.
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