When we think about something that has the power to change our lives, we usually think big: a new job, a move across country, a relationship beginning or ending. Sometimes something small but meaningful can change the trajectory of our lives, such as a powerful book, a movie or even a gift.
It may be surprising, but even a question—complex, pointed, and mulled over with care—can change the direction of your life. Take a look at the 10 questions below and see if one or two of them resonate with you.
1. Am I really happy right now?
We have a tendency to put our happiness on hold by telling ourselves, “When I get married I will be happy,” or, “When I graduate, I will be happy,” when we could permit ourselves to be happy now and enjoy each day, says Dr. Srikumar Rao, author of Happiness At Work and head of The Rao Institute. As a second part to this question, he suggests asking yourself: What is keeping me from being happy at this instant?
2. If I had all the money in the world, how would I spend my time?
Having to pay for rent and groceries (and those pesky bills) can cloud what’s truly calling to you. Take away financial concerns, and you can think more clearly about what is truly meaningful and important in your life. Yes, you still may need to keep your job, but your answer might lead you to start a side business, take up a new hobby or shift how you spend your time.
3. What do I want my legacy to be?
When we get caught up in the minutiae of day-to-day life, it’s easy to forget the big picture. How do you want to be remembered? What impact do you want to have with your life? It might sound grim, but picturing what you want people to say during your eulogy can really wake you up to how want to live today.
4. How is my story holding me back?
We are defined by the stories we tell ourselves. Are you letting yourself be defined by a negative narrative? We can choose to focus on the stories that empower us, and see ourselves and our strengths—rather than our past or even our genetics—as the determining factors in our future success.
5. When should I say “no”?
If you don’t say “no” when you want to, it can leave you no time to say “yes” to all those things you really want to do. If you say “yes” when that’s not how you really feel, you set yourself up for frustration and resentment. Saying "no" can actually be a kind act—for yourself and your well-being.
6. What is a recurring problem in my life and how can I solve it?
Sometimes we can get stuck—whether in the midst of a bad relationship, financial woes, weight gain or another personal challenge. Your recurring problem can derail you from striving toward your full potential because it keeps you distracted. Go after your recurring problem with focus and a solution-mindset to solve it once and for all. New opportunities arise when we get unstuck.
7. What did I love to do as a child?
When we are kids, we are truly ourselves. When we become adults with lots of responsibility, we tend to forget what we truly love. Think back to your happiest moments as a kid. What did you love the most? How can you do those things as an adult? Getting in touch with your childhood joys can change your career path or enhance how you spend your recreational time.
8. How can I turn regret into motivation?
If you are lucky enough to get lots of opportunity in life, then you also have lots of opportunity to regret things. "Turn any regrets into motivation," says Darlene Mininni, author of The Emotional Toolkit. “The key is remembering you did the best you could with the information you had at the time. It’s easy to judge yourself after the fact,” she says. “Let experience become your teacher and take your big, fat insight and make it a catalyst for change.”
9. What are my top five strengths?
Make a list of your top five strengths—those things you are good at and enjoy. When you align your life to use more of your strengths, you minimize anxiety and depression, and you can improve your mood and relationships with others, says Michelle McQuaid, author of Your Strengths Blueprint.
10. How can I look at life through a lens of gratitude?
You can choose to view everything with a positive, gratitude-based lens and that will boost your mood. Facing adversity? Look for the bright side or ask yourself what you can learn. Trying to kick a bad mood? Jot down all that you feel grateful for in this moment. Nudge yourself to return to gratitude by asking if this (bad mood, irritation, challenge) will matter a year from now.
Sandra Bienkowski is a regular contributor to Live Happy and the founder and CEO of TheMediaConcierge.net.