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Building a Satisfying Life

By Eric Dean JD, MBA, MA, MA, LPC, CADC

What makes you happy? What gives you satisfaction and fulfillment? What gets you out of bed in the morning? What makes you tick? If you answered “I’m not sure” to any of these questions you are far from alone. Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) provides some insight on how we can cultivate joy in our lives. Here I will be presenting the acronym ROUTINE:


Keeping up with our responsibilities at home and work allows us to focus on other, more satisfying tasks and hobbies. If we fall behind, we may feel anxious, worried, and stressed out. If we are ahead, we may feel confident and relaxed. For many of us, the hardest part is getting started on a task that they do not want to do. However, once they begin it is much easier to complete. Thus, it is helpful to think about what you need to do to breakthrough that initial task inertia. 

Ongoing Structure

Having structure in our lives can give us purpose and direction. With COVID-19, many of our typical daily structures have been upended. Many clients are struggling to implement structure in their new daily routines, which leads to an abundance of idle time. While some downtime is healthy, too much can lead to restlessness, irritability, and feeling discontent. This does not mean you need to have something scheduled for every single hour of your day. Creating goals for the day and to-do lists will inform the structure of your days and weeks and a reasonable balance of structured and unstructured time. 

Use of Skills

Everyone has at least one thing they are good at. Putting that skill(s) to use can build self-efficacy, mastery, and confidence. If we possess talents and skills, but they lay dormant and unutilized, we are not living up to our true potential. Identifying and then regularly putting our skills to use in our careers, school, or hobbies can help us stay sharp – practice makes pattern. 


Many people associate traditions with holiday gatherings and customs. This is not wrong, but traditions encompass so much more. A tradition may be hosting a pizza night every Sunday or a golf outing on the last weekend of every month. A tradition may also be triggered by a certain event. For example, the tradition of going out to dinner after a certain goal is met at work. Traditions are events that we can look forward to. 

Interests Included

Building a satisfying life is about setting aside time to do things that interest you. Many clients are not exactly sure what they are interested in. I will then ask: What did you enjoy doing as a kid? Oftentimes, hobbies and interests in our younger years carry with us in some form into adulthood. 


Routine and structure do not have to be boring and monotonous. Trying new things can broaden our horizons and help up develop new interests. While there is comfortability in familiarity, novelty leads to personal growth. In fact, by placing ourselves in new and enriching environments we are promoting healthy brain activity and development which lead to neurogenesis, or the creation of new neurons and connections in the brain for improved cognition!

Envision A Satisfying Life

Imagining what a satisfying life looks like for you can help you identify what you need to do to achieve it. Positive thoughts lead to positive actions. This is not something to do once in a great while, but rather should be done on a consistent basis as our visions evolve. Checking in with yourself and/or your therapist about whether you are moving in the direction you want is beneficial.

Using the ROUTINE acronym is not easy. While some of the items above may seem obvious, DBT nevertheless provides an important reminder of what we can do to improve ourselves and our lives. 

If you would like to meet with a licensed therapist, contact Symmetry Counseling in Chicago to arrange an appointment for in-person or online counseling via teletherapy.

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