A key–perhaps the key–to a happy life is self-knowledge because, as the Fifth Splendid Truth holds, I can build a happy life only on the foundation of my own nature. In my own case, I’ve found that the more my life reflects my real interests, values, and temperament, the happier I become.

But it’s very hard to know ourselves; it’s easy to be distracted by the way we wish we were, or think we ought to be, or what others think we should be, until we lose sight of what is actually true. There’s a sadness to self-knowledge.

As Christopher Alexander observed: “It is hard, so terribly hard, to please yourself. Far from being the easy thing that it sounds like, it is almost the hardest thing in the world, because we are not always comfortable with that true self that lies deep within us.”

Here is a list of questions meant to help you think about yourself, your daily habits, your nature, and your interests. There are no right or wrong answers; they’re fodder for reflection.

1. If something is forbidden, do you want it less or more?

2. Is there an area of your life where you feel out of control? Especially in control?

3. If you unexpectedly had a completely free afternoon, what would you do with that time?

4. Are you comfortable or uncomfortable in a disorderly environment?

5. How much time do you spend looking for things you can’t find?

6. Are you motivated by competition?

7. Fill in the blank: “I really wish I could make consistent progress on my project to _______.”

8. Do you find it easier to do things for other people than to do things for yourself?

9. Whom do you envy? Why?

10. What do you lie about? For instance, a friend told me he’d been telling people that he walked to work, when, in fact, he almost never does.

11. What did you do for fun when you were ten years old? Do you still do that activity or would you like to do it?

12. Do you work constantly? Or think you should be working?

13. Do you embrace rules or flout rules?

14. Do you keep New Year’s resolutions?

15. Do you work well under pressure? Deadlines?

16. What would your perfect day look like?

17. How much TV do you watch in a week (and yes, this includes computer time spent watching videos, movies, YouTube)?

18. Are you a morning person or a night person?

19. What’s more satisfying to you: saving time or saving money?

20. Do you like to be in the spotlight?

21. Is your life “on hold” in any aspect? Until you finish your thesis, get married, lose weight, move?

22. What would you do if you had more energy?

23. If you suddenly had an extra room in your house, what would you do with it?

24. What people and activities energize you? Make you feel depleted? For instance, as an under-buyer, I very much dislike shopping.

25. Is it hard for you to get rid of things that you no longer need or want?

26. On a typical night, what time do you go to bed? How many hours of sleep do you get?

27. If, at the end of the year, you had accomplished one thing, what is the one accomplishment that would make the biggest difference to your happiness?

28. Is there an activity that you love to do, yet somehow never seem actually to do it?

The process of answering these questions is meant to help spur ideas for possible change. I often find that once I start paying attention to an area of my life, it becomes natural and easy to make helpful alterations in my everyday habits.

Here’s a final question for you: What questions would you add to this list, to help other people know themselves better? It’s so important, and so elusive.


  • According to this piece in the New York Times Book Review, I am “the queen of the self-help memoir.” That’s right, the QUEEN! Though I would say “self-helpful,” not “self-help,” really,  I’d say I’m a moral essayist, but that sounds so dull.

Gretchen Rubin is the author of the #1 New York Times Bestseller The Happiness Project—an account of the year she spent test-driving the wisdom of the ages, current scientific studies, and lessons from popular culture about how to be happier—and the recently released Happier at Home. On her popular blog, The Happiness Project, she reports on her daily adventures in the pursuit of happiness. For more doses of happiness and other happenings, follow Gretchen on Facebook and Twitter.


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