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Why Happiness and Purpose Cannot Be Found In A Bucket List

Happy woman

“There is no need to reach high for the stars. They are already within you. Just reach deep into yourself!” ~Unknown

Bucket lists. One hundred things to do before you die. Twenty-five-before-twenty-five. Thirty-before-thirty. New Year’s Resolutions.

You name a goal-setting list, I’ve written it.

In fact, I can remember writing a list of yearly goals in my journal as young as nine years old. (I can even remember what some of them were, but that’s a secret between me and my younger self, bless her heart.)

Universal wisdom teaches that one of the keys to a beautiful life is to set and reach goals.

And setting goals is what I did, year after year.

I learned to sew my own dresses. Took up photography. Mastered the art of cooking. Traveled across Europe. Read the classics. Started yoga classes. And documented every bit of it on social media (reaffirming my ‘success.’)

So why did the cup of my soul feel so empty? Why did my life feel so uncomfortable and constraining, like an ill-fitting, itchy sweater? Why did the grey days merge into one long blur, until another year was over with little improvement in my overall happiness?

Because I was taking my lead from the status quo, my peers, and the media as to what constituted happiness and success instead of following my intuition and inner guide.

Because I was making my way through a random and disjointed collection of activities and achievements rather than stepping back and looking at the overall picture of who I wanted to be and how I wanted to live my life.

Because I was putting my happiness off until a day in the future where I had ticked off a suitable number of goals in my life rather than realizing that the present day was already filled with so much magic, excitement, beauty, simply joys, and goodness. And I had absolutely every reason and means to be happy and overflowing with contentment right here and now.

But above all, I always ended up feeling empty, despite my ambition and goal-kicking, because of one major misunderstanding about the nature of life: I was looking to external sources for happiness and a sense of fulfilment instead of anchoring my happiness and meaning within.

It’s not that goals and achievements are bad to have or even unnecessary, but they are the icing on the cake of life. And so, while they are nice-to-haves, your happiness and self-worth should not be dependent on them.

I realized that your value as a person shouldn’t fluctuate up and down based on whether you have a relationship, a house, an esteemed career, a slim figure, or a Facebook list full of friends.

You are inherently worthwhile and enough, and you win at life simply by being here. By being you in this very moment, a once-in-a-humankind combination of natural aptitudes, interests, passions, and quirks.

With this kind of thinking, it dawned on me that, while goals and dreams are incredibly positive and worthwhile, maybe they should be seen as secondary to your higher purpose in life: to be you.

To get in touch with your soul through life experience, meditation, movement, being in nature, service, and being lost in the flow of doing things you love.

To fall deeply in love with who you are.

To grow into the highest embodiment of you.

To love and accept and give to and forgive everyone you encounter.

To pick yourself back up and try again whenever you fall short of that highest version of you.

To eat your favorite foods, dance to your favorite music, laugh to your favorite jokes, wear your favorite clothing, read your favorite books, and work, date, live, create, indulge, and adventure in ways that feel good to you.

To become fully alive and benefit the world with your gifts.

The most surprising thing was, the more I let go of external goals and focused on self-love, soul-care, and the field of diamonds within me, the more external success seemed to come more naturally.

As a kind of by-product of taking care of my internal world, my external world has continually transformed in beautiful and amazing ways.

We need not fear that by giving up some of our goal-chasing time for self-discovery, time alone, and soul-nourishing activities, we’ll end up living a lesser life. My experience has shown me that the exact opposite is true.

I urge you to take a moment today to shift your focus away from reaching for the stars, to the stars already within you. Feel them. Breathe them. Embrace them. Thank them. And remember them as you go about the rest of your day.

Happy woman image via Shutterstock

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About Elyse Gorman

Elyse Gorman is a writer, happiness teacher and coffee drinker. She writes about happiness, soul-discovery and creating a beautiful life at Notes On Bliss. For more tips and inspiration, sign up now. You can also get your hands on her free gifts for you.

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  • Sue

    Great article and so true! I often hear spirtitual leaders say, “everything you need is inside of you”; your post reiterates that message in a way that I think everyone can relate too.

  • MissE

    Thank you, Elyse. This post made me happy. You made me happy. I made myself happy. 😀

  • Arkady Apelchuk

    Awesome post. This is where my life was about 2 weeks ago and since looking inward for answers rather than external rewards, I can say i’ve been so much happier

  • Jessica H

    Hi Elyse, totally resonate we are looking to external sources for happiness and a sense of fulfilment instead of looking internally. True happiness is anchoring happiness and meaning within us.