Student Life

Improve Your Life With 5 Simple Questions

By Christine Ascher, USC

For many, college is a time of introspection; after all, it takes a lot of soul-searching to actually land on the right major. As the parent of a college student, you might find your student questioning themselves all the time. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re asking the right questions.

According to James E. Ryan, the eleventh dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education and author of the book Wait, What? And Life’s Other Essential Questions, there are only five basic questions that everyone should ask themselves in order to ensure a happier and more successful life:

1. “Wait, what?

2. I wonder …?

3. Couldn’t we at least?

4. How can I help?

5. What truly matters?”

According to Ryan, asking these preliminary — though essential — questions will eventually bring you around to the ultimate question: “Did you get what you wanted out of life, even so?

Essentially, the first five questions offer the basis for establishing a more meaningful and reflective life. For instance, asking “Wait, what?” will encourage explanation and thereby improve your understanding of a concept or idea. By asking “I wonder … ,” you’ll become more curious and thoughtful. Asking, “Couldn’t we at least?” leads to progress and development as you challenge the ideas of others and bring your own to the table. Asking, “How can I help” will not only allow others to rely on you more but will also encourage you to be there for others and be more receptive to their needs. Finally, in asking “What truly matters?” you will be forced to examine what you really want from life and will learn to stop stressing about worries that are, in the end, unimportant.

In using a series of relatively simple questions, Ryan encourages his readers to return to the core of what matters. Instead of overcomplicating your life and constantly worrying, stick to the simple basics that he lays out and improve your overall happiness. You don’t need to ask yourself the meaning of life in order to determine what you want to get out of it.

After offering this advice during his commencement address to Harvard graduates in 2016, Dean Ryan’s words went viral, inspiring students around the country and culminating in a now best-selling book, according to a recent press release. The next time your student starts questioning their purpose and asking you why they need to bother with college in the first place (which probably happens around finals), give them Dean Ryan’s book to help them shed some light on their situation. They might end up coming to some surprising conclusions — and you might as well.

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