3 Questions to Build Happiness
The three most important questions that lead to happiness
“How did you find happiness?” The answer is simple. I became introspective and began asking the right questions.
When we ask another person about “finding” happiness, it implies another person can provide a step-by-step linear process that each person can follow. But the truth is happiness is a messy bitch.
When you think you have her figured out, she switches it up, and she puts on different features and personalities for other people. So how the hell are any of us supposed to recognize her? We have to adjust to her methods and figure out how she looks in the present moment.
So how to find her? Let’s use an example from the popular romantic comedy 50 First Dates.
Drew Barrymore has a short-term memory loss from an auto accident a year earlier in the movie. Adam Sandler’s character meets Barrymore and falls in love with her. But there is a HUGE problem. Barrymore forgets everything that happened in her last twenty-four hours, so she never remembers meeting Sandler or falling in love with him. So Sandler creates a plan every day to meet Barrymore and get her to fall in love with him.
This is how your relationship with happiness works. You must attempt to meet happiness every day by asking yourself the right questions.
Happiness reveals itself when we ask ourselves specific questions that lead us to her. There is a word for this happiness courtship; it’s called introspection. Your introspection questions can be emotional, relational, or behavioral, and they include things like self-evaluation or relationship assessment.
If you ask introspective questions enough, the process of identifying happiness will start to become automatic.
How does introspection become “automatic”?
Think back to when you learned to use a spoon to eat. You can’t, can you? But at some point, you had to learn to use your hands to hold a spoon and shovel food into your mouth. Now, if you’ve ever watched a baby learn to use a spoon, you know it’s not pretty. That used to be you. But you practiced repeatedly, and now you don’t even have to think about what you’re doing. Now, when you eat, it feels effortless—almost automatic. Introspection works the same way.
I can’t remember the exact moment introspection became automatic for me. But I remember the most valuable question I began asking myself: why?
In one of the most painful relationships I have had, this question caused my decision to leave. I pulled up to my home, my sanctuary, the safe space I had created for myself to retreat away and restore from the woes of the world, and I dreaded walking in. The thought of getting out of the car and making my way to the door made my body feel heavy and my stomach weak. And automatically, without thinking, I asked myself why? And my truthful answer was because I hated the life and the relationship that awaited me inside, I had to make a change.
That is automatic introspection. So when you practice asking the right questions, and you practice asking them enough, they become automated, and the answers you find are the keys to building a life you love.
How is this possible?
Despite how much we despise our mind for overthinking or drawing blanks when we need to find the right words, we have to recognize that the mind has a lot to do, and it works hard. So give her some credit. She isn’t all bad. When the mind has a task that it does repeatedly (think walking, talking, writing), it makes its job easier by creating “shortcuts” to save time and energy.
Think of it as you think of predictive text on your phone. When you get a new phone, it isn’t familiar with your unique vocabulary, but after some time, it adjusts to your word choices, and eventually, your predictive text will start showing you words that you frequently use. It gives you shortcuts. Our brains work the same way.
This is why things that felt hard when we were young, we now do without even thinking.
The same thing can happen with introspection. When you practice asking yourself how you feel in a particular moment or with a specific person, your brain creates shortcuts for these questions, making it easier and easier each time you do it (like using a spoon).
These questions enable you to assess what brings you excitement, joy, and positivity or what doesn’t. Either way, the answers you find lead to happiness, resilience, and even career success.
So, your only objective is to figure out how to ask questions that help you determine your happiness.
Here’s how to do it
1. What are my values?
Your values are your lighthouse. When you struggle to identify why you’re not feeling happy or fulfilled, your values will guide you towards the answer. For example, I value freedom, and because of that, I don’t thrive in rigidly structured environments. This is why working for myself has increased my overall happiness. I have the freedom to choose my schedule, which allows me to work at the most optimal times. When I didn’t control my schedule, I struggled to find happiness in my day-to-day experience because my life did not reflect my values. This leads to the next question.
2. What thoughts or experiences are causing me to be unhappy?
Take a moment to think about the areas of your life that cause you unhappiness. Is it your relationship with someone, your work life, or a lack of self-confidence? Our brains are wired towards negativity. Meaning it usually ruminates on our negative experiences more than positive. While I would never encourage someone to ruminate on negative thoughts purposely, I do think when negative feelings arise, it’s a time to pause, reflect, and ask introspective questions. For example, when you feel down, it’s essential to ask yourself what triggered the feeling in you. It could be something a friend said to you or thinking of going into your boss’s office (been there). By asking yourself these questions, it will make it easier to identify what is causing you unhappiness so that you can make a plan to create change in that area of your life.
3. Do I see any patterns in my happiness or unhappiness?
Once you start intentionally being mindful of your thoughts and experiences, you may begin to notice a pattern. Every time you speak to a particular person, you may notice that you feel down afterward. It doesn’t always have to be an interaction with someone else. For example, when I was in my early twenties, I longed to find my purpose and career path. Whenever I logged onto Facebook and saw someone seemingly moving forward in their career or traveling, I deflated a little. It was the same when I saw someone like Beyonce killing it in her industry and profession. After a while, I noticed a pattern in my feelings and what triggered them. Then, I knew that the area of my life I was unhappy in was my purpose and career path, so I began to ask myself questions to figure out what I was passionate about and what I wanted for that area of my life. Now here I am, writing to you and loving it.
Traditionally, society has taught us that happiness comes from self-compassion, gratitude, and positive thinking. While I agree that all of those skills help build happiness, I believe asking yourself questions to discover your values, being mindful of your thoughts and experiences, and noticing patterns enhance the other happiness skills.
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