The other day the Dark Knight asked me to explain what I would say to a coaching client who is trying to choose between what would make them feel happy and what they think is best for their life. It's a great question, especially for us in the West, because we are often under the misguided notion that feeling happy and being fulfilled are the same thing. But, alas, they are not.
Fulfillment is a two-sided door. One one side, fulfillment involves the pursuit of a life of deep purpose--of surrendering yourself to a Power and purpose greater than yourself. This is essential to fulfillment--and by definition involves a certain level of sacrifice, a willingness to follow a Higher Call, even when that Call leads you to what can seem like some pretty risky or uncomfortable territory.
The other side of the "fulfillment door" involves the practice and art of being fully alive in the here and now--of experiencing your life, and all the ups and downs and potential of it, as fully and completely as you can. This does not always mean you'll feel happy; in fact, the internal imperative to pursue only happy feelings can paradoxically rob you of a rich, full life. You can, for example, be fully alive in your grief or sorrow. And though that certainly is not a happy experience, it is a core part of the human experience. Fulfillment isn't just about reaching your goal and feeling good all the time; it's about fully experiencing your life as you take the transformational journey toward whatever mountaintop you're aiming for.
As one friend of mine recently put it, "Happiness is overrated." Of course, I'm not saying you shouldn't be happy in life. Everybody wants to be happy. But what we so often fail to see is that happiness is a byproduct of a fulfilled life--a life fully surrendered to a Power and purpose larger than ourselves. You cannot find happiness by making happiness your goal.