How To Find the Missing Piece in Life?

By the time we reach our thirties, many of us have settled down in life. You have landed a good job that you love or at least like. It challenges you and enables you to grow careerwise. Additionally, it provides you with the financial stability to live a nice life without excess stress. You have good relationships in your life. There are a group of close friends you can rely on. You are building a family and a home with your partner. You have enough free time and resources to invest in your hobbies. You take time to read to grow as a person.

It sounds like you’re living your dream, right? Then why, every now and then you have a nagging feeling at the back of your mind, that something is still missing? Feeling that something is missing in life despite having a seemingly fulfilling job, good relationships, and financial stability is not uncommon.

Lack Of Balance In Life

External factors like job satisfaction and relationships are important to create a balance in life. A sense of fulfillment requires a healthy balance in more aspects of life. The main challenge everybody seems to focus on is finding the balance between work and relationships. It’s easy to forget yourself in the process, but without you, who will go to work and have those relationships? You may feel like something is missing in your life if you have neglected some less focused but still important areas. Think of personal interests, hobbies, self-care, or spiritual well-being. I like to think of three challenges I have to tackle every day:

  • Business, Finances, and Career
  • Relationships and Community
  • Myself

Each of those three aspects deserves an equal amount of focus and energy invested in them

Good Doesn’t Mean It’s Meaningful

When you think of your job and your relationships on a scale, you may think that the scale goes from bad to ok to good. If you evaluate your job or your relationship with someone bad, it’s pretty obvious that something should change. But if they are ok, or even good, then nothing is actually wrong, right?

Let’s think about our jobs, as it’s easier and less emotional to evaluate them compared to relationships.

You may be brilliant at your job, climbing on that career ladder, and loving the challenges it provides you. You don’t need a shovel to get you out of bed to go to work every day. It’s not that shabby situation at all, actually. Landing a job like that requires some good career choices but it’s not impossible or even a rare thing to happen.

Having a good job doesn’t mean you’re safe from feeling that you lack a strong sense of purpose or meaning in your life. Try asking yourself:

  • What’s the significance of my work?
  • Does my work connect with my true passions and values?
  • Do I feel that the work I do makes a difference?
  • What does my work give back to me?

If any of those answers bring uncomfortable realizations, it doesn’t mean you should start questioning your job. As I wrote earlier: if your job is ok, or even good, then nothing is actually wrong and doesn’t need immediate changes. However, if any of the answers you gave earlier made you feel unease, it’s a sign you could investigate it further.

I consider myself as a mix of a creative and technical person. While I love my work, the nature of it is more technical than artistic or creative. I do get opportunities to use my artistic side every now and then but it’s not enough to keep that side of me happy and content. To avoid neglecting that side, I choose passion projects that allow me to nurture that side of me.

By filling the void that is left by the day job with your personal projects, you can add meaning to the work aspect of your life. You don’t need to quit your day job to accomplish that. There are several ways to pursue your passions beyond 9-5.

Feeling Stuck And Stagnant

If a person feels stagnant or stuck in their current situation, they may yearn for new experiences, opportunities, or challenges that can help them evolve as individuals. In order to understand these feelings, it’s important to remember that humans have an innate desire for personal growth and development.

If you’re living your dream life, along with its stability and all, it feels like you have arrived at your destination. This can feel like a great accomplishment and bring you fulfillment. In fact, you totally deserve a pat on your back for reaching this milestone in your life. At the same time, this is like the final stop of a bus line. Where do you go from here? Or is this a sign that you should settle? Let’s think about the definition of the verb to settle:

  • to relax into a comfortable position
  • to move to a lower level and stay there, to drop
  • to become quiet and calm
  • to reach and remain at a certain level or in a certain state

It is not inherently against human nature to seek stability and establish a sense of security and comfort in life. While some individuals may have a natural inclination for stability and settling down, others may have a stronger drive for exploration, novelty, and change. These individuals may find satisfaction in pursuing new experiences, taking risks, and avoiding long-term commitments. For both, feelings such as restlessness or dissatisfaction can emerge after some time when reaching their goals. This originates from the sensation of being stagnant or stuck in a position for too long. Unlike settling down in the sense of stability, stagnation is something that goes against human nature.

Running the Hedonic Treadmill

From an evolutionary standpoint, humans have evolved to adapt to new environments and challenges. Our ancestors constantly had to adapt to survive and thrive. This adaptive nature can make individuals feel uneasy or dissatisfied when they find themselves in a static or unchanging situation, as it may conflict with their innate need for novelty. Even if someone has achieved their dream life, the repetition and familiarity of the same routine or circumstances can lead to a sense of stagnation. The absence of new stimuli or challenges can create restlessness and a craving for change and fresh experiences.

This phenomenon is often referred to as the hedonic treadmill. The hedonic treadmill, also known as hedonic adaptation, is a psychological phenomenon that suggests that humans have a natural tendency to return to a relatively stable level of happiness or subjective well-being, despite experiencing significant positive or negative life events.

According to the theory, when positive events or changes occur in a person’s life, such as getting a promotion, buying a new house, or acquiring material possessions, there is typically a temporary increase in happiness and life satisfaction. However, over time, individuals adapt to these changes, and the initial boost in happiness diminishes. They return to their baseline level of happiness, which existed prior to the positive event.

Similarly, when negative events occur, such as the loss of a job or the end of a relationship, individuals may experience a decrease in happiness and well-being. However, they gradually adapt to these negative circumstances, and their happiness levels stabilize again.

But this stable level of happiness and well-being is not enough. The hedonic treadmill implies that the pursuit of external achievements or material possessions alone does not lead to lasting happiness. It suggests that our subjective well-being is relatively stable and that it takes more than acquiring external circumstances to experience sustained fulfillment. Adaptation to new circumstances occurs, and individuals may continue to seek higher levels of achievement or possessions in an attempt to sustain or regain the initial happiness boost.

If you want to step off the hedonic treadmill that focuses on material possessions, guide your focus on non-materialistic sources of well-being. Try cultivating meaningful relationships, engaging in activities aligned with personal values, practicing gratitude, finding purpose and meaning, and nurturing one’s physical and mental health. These factors can contribute to a more sustainable and enduring sense of happiness and well-being beyond the fleeting effects of external circumstances.

Inherent Drive for Growth

As I mentioned earlier, humans have an innate desire for personal growth and development. Once you have achieved your desired goals or reached a certain level of success, you will start yearning for new challenges, opportunities, and experiences again. This restlessness can be a manifestation of the human drive to expand their capabilities and seek continuous improvement.

As you grow and evolve, your priorities and values can shift. What was once considered a dream life may no longer align with your current needs, aspirations, or sense of purpose. This misalignment can start with a sense of dissatisfaction and restlessness. As an ever-growing creature, it’s a good idea to engage in regular self-reflection to reassess your values periodically.

  1. Reflect on your current values: Take the time to identify and clarify your current values. Reflect on what truly matters to you at this stage of life and what brings you a sense of purpose and fulfillment. Consider whether your dream life still aligns with these values or if there are aspects that need to be reevaluated or realigned.
  2. Assess the areas of misalignment: Identify the specific areas or aspects of your dream life that no longer align with your values. It could be related to your career, relationships, lifestyle, or personal aspirations. Pinpoint the areas where the misalignment is most prominent and examine why they no longer resonate with your current values.
  3. Explore alternative paths: Once you have identified the areas of misalignment, explore alternative paths or possibilities that better align with your updated values. This could involve considering new career directions, reevaluating your relationships, or pursuing different interests or hobbies. Allow yourself to think creatively and be open to new opportunities that reflect your current values and aspirations.
  4. Embrace gradual changes: Recognize that making significant changes in your life to align with your values may take time and involve gradual steps. It might involve making small adjustments initially, experimenting with new experiences, or seeking opportunities to explore different paths. Embrace the process of growth and be patient with yourself as you navigate this period of transition.

Personal Growth May Ruin Your Life

As you look into yourself and analyze what matters to you in life, it can lead to scary recognition. The misalignments have been the reason behind your inner conflict and dissatisfaction for a long time. This conflict has been building up and eventually will reach a tipping point. It will lead to a drastic shift in what you prioritize and hold dear. Recognizing the misalignment between your old values and your authentic self can feel like an avalanche. It will come over fast and cause a lot of damage in their way. On its way, it will tear down old beliefs to make room for new ones. This can be a scary, complex, and profound experience.

One of the biggest challenges can be the realization that the dream you have built does not align with your values anymore. I mean, how do you admit to yourself that the effort you have put into building your dream is rendered meaningless due to a significant shift in values? This can be a challenging and disorienting experience.

Before you think to yourself: “I’ve wasted so much time and energy and the results mean nothing”, stop! Without the time and energy you invested, you wouldn’t have reached the realization you just did. Every decision you make in your life shapes you and your values to where they are now. If the decisions were different, you wouldn’t be the same version of yourself, would you?

But despite knowing that, you probably have some strong emotions going on. Here are some steps to help you navigate this situation:

  1. Allow yourself to acknowledge and accept your feelings: Feelings such as disappointment, confusion, and even grief are a natural reaction when you realize that your previous efforts may no longer align with your current values. Give yourself permission to feel these emotions and allow yourself time to process them without judgment.
  2. Practice self-compassion: Be kind and gentle with yourself during this period of adjustment. Recognize that it’s normal for values to evolve, and it’s a sign of personal growth and self-discovery. Avoid self-blame or guilt for the choices you made in the past, as they were based on the values you held at that time.
  3. Avoid catastrophizing: It can be tempting to switch to an all-or-nothing, black-and-white mindset. Especially when the emotions are still raw and intense. Catch the thoughts in your head that use extreme words such as everything, nothing, all, ultimate, and forever. Instead, approach the new situation with flexibility.
  4. Reevaluate your goals and priorities: Take a fresh look at your goals and priorities in light of your new values. Determine which aspects of your dream life can be adjusted or realigned to better reflect your current values. This might involve making changes to your career, relationships, or lifestyle choices. Be open to exploring new possibilities and opportunities that resonate with your updated values.
  5. Take gradual steps towards alignment: Recognize that realigning your life with your new values is a process that takes time and patience. Break down the necessary changes into manageable steps and take them one at a time. Even if the progress you make feels gradual, it’s still progress.
  6. Embrace the opportunity for growth and redefinition: This realization is not a setback, but one step further on the path of personal growth and redefinition. Embrace the chance to create a life that is more authentic and aligned with your current values. Approach the process with curiosity and openness, knowing that change can lead to new and meaningful experiences.

Everybody’s Journey Is Different

It’s essential to recognize that restlessness and dissatisfaction, even in the face of dream life, are not uncommon. They can serve as important signals for personal growth and self-discovery. Exploring new interests, setting new goals, or finding ways to introduce novelty and variety into your life can help alleviate these feelings and bring a renewed sense of fulfillment and purpose.

The way to learn more about the reasons behind the feeling that something is missing in your life can lead to unexpected discoveries about yourself. It may involve taking risks, stepping outside your comfort zone, and being open to change. Embrace this opportunity for growth and trust in your ability to create a life that is true to who you are and what you value most.

It’s important to remember that human nature is complex and multifaceted, encompassing a wide range of desires and inclinations. Your values are not set in stone, and they may continue to evolve throughout your life. Embracing this evolution and making choices that align with your authentic self will lead to a more fulfilling and purpose-driven life.