12 Questions That Will Change Your Life
How can you make this your best year yet? Surprise: You already know the answers.
On these pages, you’ll find 12 questions that’ll help you shine a light on your inner compass and see where it’s pointing these days. Answer them, and you’ll discover what you truly need to feel your happiest — now, and for years to come.
1. How do I spend my alone time?
Sure, relying on your old standbys (walking the dog, gardening) is comforting, satisfying, and gives you a strong sense of self (“I was running when I was 18, and I’ll be running when I’m 80”). But if you always stick with the same-old same-old, you’ll probably find yourself feeling a mite bored and uninspired; it’s like wearing the same pair of pants for 30 years. Plus, if you spend all your alone time taking in what others have packaged for you (reading, watching TV), you might find it more stimulating to instead walk out your door and into the world, and let yourself feel newly curious and challenged by all the cool stuff out there. Who knows what you’ll love — what class, what group, what hiking trail, what art show? Prepare to be surprised.
2. Do I pay attention to what my body needs?
Do you listen when it tells you that you’re working too hard, drinking too much wine, or letting your arm muscles go as weak as a little old lady’s? Imagine how much you could benefit from treating your body like a new pal who has lots of insightful things to tell you.
3. To whom am I grateful?
Think of the teacher who coaxed you to express your opinions, the aunt who advised you to fearlessly try new things, the boss who gave you days off to deal with a personal problem. Recall their attention, their encouragement, their caring and generous spirit. Realizing how many people you’re grateful to, and for what, can totally alter your outlook, says M. Nora Klaver, a work/life coach and author of Mayday! Asking for Help in Times of Need: “When you look at your life through that lens of abundance, you realize you’re really blessed. Your sense of connection to others feels stronger. You feel real joy.”
Gratitude can also reveal your secret desires. If you’re thankful for the strong women in your life, maybe you yourself aspire to be a stronger woman. And if, 20 years later, you still feel indebted to the person who gave you the tip about that “Acting for Amateurs” class, maybe it’s a sign that you’re yearning for a new creative outlet, or another opportunity to be surrounded by fellow newbies — all pushing yourselves, all cheering one another on.
4. Do I compare my life to other people’s?
If you expend too many brain cells stacking your life up against others’ lives — your kids vs. their ids, your kitchen vs. their kitchen — it’s time to free yourself from that keeping-up-with-the-Joneses mind-set. Otherwise, all you’re learning is what the Joneses want. Who are these people, anyway? When you see them driving around town, are they always laughing and happy? Nope. Sometimes, if you look closely, you’ll see Mrs. Jones staring out the window glumly — because she’s wondering if her family measures up to the Smiths.
5. Do I spend money on things that speak to my soul?
Can you devote a small, symbolic amount — say, $10 a month — to something you care about, whether it’s a charity that means a lot to you or saving to buy yourself a piece of art?
If you’ve been known to occasionally wrinkle up your nose at the little imperfections you see, or at your choice of today’s outfit, what if you just gave yourself a great big smile each day instead? Well, for starters, you might find more joy in getting dressed and have more fun wearing your favorite color. In fact, maybe everyone (even the cranky bus driver on your route) would start to look more beautiful to you.
7. Have I figured out a way to handle the less-than-perfect relationships in my life?
Do you yearn for some people to just get it together, darn it? Or do you keep trying — and failing — to “fix” them? Maybe it’s time to accept that your sister-in-law/boss/college pal are who they are, warts and all — and decide how they fit into your life (or don’t) “as is.”
8. Do I have faith in something bigger than I am, whether it’s God or some other spiritual form?
That feeling of awe you get when contemplating a higher spirit — be it God, Buddha, or Mother Nature — brings you blessedly out of yourself. You realize that you’re part of a larger community, and you’re humbled — but also comforted and perhaps inspired by the feeling that we’re all connected by something greater than us. Whether you meditate or pray or walk by the river, these moments can help you explore what you find wondrous in life.
9. What positive things do I bring to relationships with my husband, my kids, my friends?
Your wicked sense of humor? Your sage advice? Your habit of baking the world’s best brownies for a loved one who’s in the dumps? Being aware of what you bring to the party helps you go easier on yourself when you hit inevitable rough moments in your relationships. Plus, being reminded of your strengths makes you feel more capable in every aspect of your life, from handling a crisis at work to running the house.
10. Is there a space in my home to do the things I love (paint, practice yoga, play cards with friends)?
If not, why not make the room for it now?
11. How many hours a week do I spend on my computer, my TV, my BlackBerry?
If the number sounds high to you, resolve to reduce your screen time next week, and see how it feels not to be in your usual chair at the usual time. See how you use — how you live — those hours instead.
12. Do I feel older or younger than my years? How often do I feel good about being exactly the age I am?
No matter how many birthdays you’ve racked up, remember this: You can tap in to your potential at any age. You can get and keep your body fit. You can seek out new thrills so you feel as excited as a kid, if you like. (What — a gray hair or two should stop you?) Or if you secretly wish you were more mature and “together,” reflect on the 20 million or so responsibilities you’ve taken on, says Joseph Luciani, a psychologist and author of The Power of Self-Coaching: The Five Essential Steps to Creating the Life You Want, and you’ll see that you’re “grown up” in ways that really count. You’ll also see that age is, indeed, just a number. And you’ll free yourself up to ask the most important question of all: How will I live this life that’s been given to me?