Important Life Questions to Ask Yourself
I remember a quote that once said, ask the right questions. Over the years I have realized that questions are much more important than answers as without asking the right queries we can never hope for the right knowledge.
But it took me a while to even understand what questions I should ask of myself. Some of those doubts were always there in the background, hovering, emphasizing that I didn’t understand life. I had a vague feeling that I was dismaying over things that didn’t matter while ignoring the universal realities that would pull me out of my little problem bubbles. But I wasn’t sure. And I never took out time to pin those deep questions about life, and, hence, could never answer them.
The process of questioning deepened when I started writing and reading full-time. As I had redesigned my life from a corporate cycle of drudgery, I was too eager to question everything and to be better at the things I had failed at before. It was like I had found vigor again. The more I read, the more I understood, the more life questions I had, and the more incomprehensible it seems now.
As Franz Kafka once said, “Anyone who cannot come to terms with his life while he is alive needs one hand to ward off a little his despair over his fate… but with his other hand he can note down what he sees among the ruins.”
The effort continues.
I am putting down some thought-provoking questions that have hitherto found me here. I have followed a natural course and have clubbed thematic questions together.
I have answered all the questions to keep an account of my thoughts on the matter. As you will see, I have some answers, but some of the questions to life still dodge me. You can completely ignore my responses and find your own.
Along with the important questions about life and their answers, I am also putting down the books that have helped me understand the matter.
I plan to update these self reflection questions and answers year-on-year or whenever my understanding changes.
Till then, I present to you the questionnaire of life from my lens.
Wang Ximeng / Public domain (The only surviving work of Wang Ximeng, a 12th-century Chinese painter)
Good Life Questions That Make You Think.
1. What is Art?
Made up of our imagination, but more real than real. Art helps us experience joy and pain while connecting us to the universe.
2. What differentiates a good piece of art from a bad one?
The (proper or incomplete) understanding of the feeling with which it is made.
3. What is Creativity?
Creativity is the imagination that gives birth to art. It is that voice inside us.
Books I want to read: A Writer’s Diary by Virginia Woolf, As Consciousness is Harnessed to Flesh: Diaries by Susan Sontag, A Velocity of Being: Letters to A Young Reader, and Madame Curie: A Biography
4. Why are some people creative and others are not?
The ones who are not creative are scared of admitting their feelings and don’t give them the due importance. They think emotional responses make them weak.
People who accept their emotions and vulnerability and harness it create art: a product of imagination and senses.
5. Could I ever be good at the art I am pursuing?
That depends on how afraid I am. How much do I practice? If I keep doing the thing without being scared all the time and believe in myself, there is nothing I cannot do. Hold on even after your hands bleed.
Questions for Self Reflection.
6. Am I a dilettante?
No. I was, once.
7. Did I start asking the good questions too late?
Yes and no. I could have questioned earlier but that doesn’t matter for I have started now. If I had started before, my answers to life would have been different and that has everything to do with the time gone in between.
8. Do I repent something? (One of the many of life’s biggest questions)
9. Am I learning from my mistakes?
Yes. (Here are 30 life lessons I learned in my twenties after committing many errors.)
10. Why letting go is hard?
Because to let go we have to forgive someone. Often, we need to forgive ourselves to move forward, and that might not be as easy as it looks.
11. Do I forgive people?
12. Why can we never forgive some people even though we know that by thinking about how they hurt us we will only harm ourselves? Wouldn’t it be easier if we just let go?
To forgive is to believe. Sometimes I am scared to believe in goodness.
13. Should I forgive people?
Always. But it is not important to always tell them that we were even upset. Forming good personal relationships is a lot about not pointing out others’ mistakes all the time.
14. What matters in life?
To be able to be on my own while being with the world. To produce art that further instills creativity and inspire people to live. People.
15. Why do I let my emotions puppeteer me when I know that I should act more logically?
I do get puppeteered, sometimes, because I feel. As Daniel Gilbert wrote, feelings are what mattering means.
I shouldn’t judge myself for having emotions. If I feel this way, many others do, too. All I can do is to understand why I feel what I feel and how can I react in a more patient and logical and fair way to others.
I still have to learn a lot about emotions and how to manage them.
Books I have read in this regard: Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert, Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy, and The Buddha Said, Meeting the Challenge of Life’s Difficulties by Osho.
16. Why do I stay stuck in a situation when I should step out of it and observe it from a distance?
Because staying stuck in a situation is easier than learning from the experience and coming out of the drama. My short-sightedness overpowers my drone view bringing misery to me and to the others around me. I should step aside from the scene and look at it objectively. It would be hard to watch the scene from a distance, but that is the only logical way to decide what is the best action.
Do not react, act in absoluteness.
Also Read: Lessons I Learned from Traveling the World
17. Do I love prestige?
I do, and I don’t. I love prestige as much as I love pizza once in a while. On most days I love simple rice and dal with fish fry. I know humble work is the pivot but prestige is that break I look for in between.
18. What is so special about food?
19. Would I commit a crime if the judiciary wasn’t a scene?
Yes. Breaking rules is always fascinating, only if the crime doesn’t involve hurting any human and nonhuman animal.
Everyday Questions of Life.
20. What is a good routine?
A good routine provides time to sleep, eat, care for ourselves physically and mentally, be with relevant people, make a living, do things that bring joy and hope(the last two could be the same), and play. Thus I can balance my physical, spiritual, mental, and earthly well-being every day. I wouldn’t have to wake up one day to realize I am unhealthy or bankrupt or disappointed.
The order in which I do the daily activities matter, too. Going from the most important tasks to the least important has proven to be the most efficient.
But it is best to not compare our routines with others as we all operate differently. I have a detailed article on creating a routine and other small daily habits to follow that have formed the basis of my daily life.
21. Is it a good expectation to always have a smooth and perfect routine? (What are the challenges I face with a creative routine?)
I come from an engineering background so shifting to a completely creative routine isn’t that straightforward. Some days I still count the number of hours I worked when all that matters is that I managed to write 7000 or even 1000 words. I think about the time spent watching informational videos when the intangible inspiration I absorbed from the videos far surpassed the tangible time.
Whether it is a creative routine or not, we all have our challenges. The trick is to take it day by day and being okay about not having a balance.
The books I want to read are: Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Creative Mind (99U) and Daily Rituals: How Artists Work.
22. Can I be more productive by being restless about productivity?
No. Productivity is subjective and is measured differently in every field.
When I was a coder, my efficiency was assessed by a project duration. Now I see productivity as the number of articles I publish. But if all the pieces are subpar, productivity is expensive. A theatre artist could measure her productivity by the number of plays she has done but also by how much she has learned by watching different plays or just by talking to people.
Productivity in creative tasks is not directly proportional to the tangible deliverables but to intangible learning.
Having said that, a certain number of finished projects do seem to put that learning to use and show growth. Never fret, do your best. After all, art of learning is something, too.
23. Why am I unsatisfied with my day even though I know that I could only do so much?
I set the wrong expectations. There is a thin line between pushing myself by setting higher goals and creating unrealistic demands. I misjudge the time a job would take. Thus I can’t get through the day’s task list and feel disappointed even when I have done a lot.
24. How to set the right expectations from a workday?
Be realistic. Keep only one thing as the focus of the day and several small things that can be done if the first one is completed. As written in the book Manage Your Day to Day, if your tasks can’t fit on one post-it, how will you do them in a day? Several small things can fill the day, too, so that other days are left for big chunks of crucial work.
25. Are schedules for weak people?
Whatever works for you is the best. But most productive and successful people around the world say habit and routine are their best friends.
Hard Questions About Life.
26. Are we all doing our best now?
No. Personally, I can do better. A lot of us are trying hard. But I don’t know what to say about the people who have not been working for, let’s say, a few years, and are financially dependent on others in spite of a healthy body and mind. Are these people doing their best?
27. Do I make excuses?
Sometimes. I should not.
28. Everything is fine until I compare my life to others’. Though I know this, why do I stop being grateful for what I have almost every other second?
Humans have learned to achieve by watching others around them. It is up to me to use that jealousy positively. Don’t fight it.
29. Is it okay if I compare my life to someone else’s? (One of the very important personal questions)
No. Everyone’s journey is different. Don’t perspire, get inspired.
30. Why do the people who show-off more than they do or live a self-oriented life shine more than the ones who are working with their head down and bringing a real difference to people’s lives?
The one who sells herself gets sold. The ones who are not trying to be popular or are not popular don’t want to be. This race to prestige and stardom will never stop.
31. If everyone knew the best ways to live life — read the right books and given all the wisdom — then would we all do the best we can?
32. Should we care about society?
Society promises to support us in exchange for our compliance with its ever-expanding collectivist rules. Mostly we are in violation of at least one of these rules, and the society stands there judging us and not helping us. Or we put our head down and follow all its rules to the point when we lose our individuality.
I would call society a crowd that expects you to follow it no matter what.
And the only good you can do to yourself is to not walk behind society. Find your idiosyncratic hinges in society and hold onto them. Don’t worry about the rest.
Do watch this video by Naseeruddin Shah (words of Osho).
33. Is there a god?
The serendipity in the universe feels magical, but I do not believe in a god represented by the religions. I do believe in the sublime power of the universe and the self, and they are my guides.
34. Why is the process so hard? When there is no other way to learn apart from following a process, why do many of us want to take short cuts only to suffer or fail later?
We are in eternal haste. The end result is supposed to make us feel fulfilled. In our memories that fulfillment is so prominent(from past experiences, from cravings for prestige) that we want to rush through the process.
But fulfillment is only any good when we have given the process its due time to produce the best result we can. And when we are devoted to something, the end would only lead to another beginning.
There is a thin line here between being slow because of laziness or due to going through the process diligently.
35. How would we be if we didn’t have any goals?
We would be lost. We would be like a painter who has all the brushes, paints, canvases, scenes, but he doesn’t know he can paint.
Let life flow, but you should be aware of the direction of the wind.
36. How did disempowering the harassed one became an accepted way to deal with the tormentors? (For more context, read this.)
Survival can make us do anything. In George Orwell’s 1984, Winston informed upon Julia to save himself even though he loved her and didn’t want her to suffer.
37. How can I stop judging people?
By knowing them. By accepting them. When I understand them more, I judge them less.
38. Why do people always think that they are all right?
We all believe that we are right because our opinions and values help us draw our (little) selves on the larger frame of the world. Without opinions, we would be lost. So we hold onto our beliefs dearly.
39. Should we pretend to know even when we don’t?
No. We should fear to be wrong and to represent false values if we wish for anything more than a stunted growth. In short, having no opinion is better than faking it.
40. Even though I know that life is not only about the things of consequence(something that would lead us somewhere) and we all just need “to be” more often than not, why do I rush to make every moment count?
Because I don’t completely believe in not making every moment count.
Since childhood, I have been working to achieve something or the other. I was judged on my test results and not valued on how well I played badminton or how much I giggled or how sensitive I was and that I maintained a diary full of poems.
It is only obvious that I started thinking of deliverables and achievements as valuable benchmarks and core life values. Now when I even want to go back to normal, it is a “shifted” normal.
Books I have read: The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Some I mentioned above in the creative routine section.
Questions to Get to Know Yourself.
41. Am I happy?
I am satisfied with how things have turned up. I am thrilled about the possibilities. I am amazed that we are here. If all of this adds up to happiness, then yes I am.
42. What helps me go through each day of my life? What is my driving force?
Contemplation about what life is,
how I can add value,
seeing the world and its people and how can I encourage them that they are okay as who they are and help them navigate life with more ease and fun,
creating art and not going after the rut,
refraining myself from just passing time and learning as much as I can,
reading the fictional and non-fictional worlds created by others,
and building myself to be a better human being are things that drive my day and my entirety.
Books to read: All fiction and non-fiction books I read lead me in this direction.
43. Am I honest with myself?
I lie to myself sometimes. And when I do, I become irritable. I lie because the truth scares me. But the only way to move ahead and to be free is to accept the fear and act in spite of it.
44. Would I be doing the same thing I am doing now if money was not a thing? If I was asked to do one thing for the rest of my life without limiting myself by any constraints, what would that be? And why?
I would continue to write and travel(I am considering these two as one as traveling is just a way of living for me).
And if I would be able to do more than one thing at the same time without affecting my focus, I would do all these — gardening(paused), writing, reading, painting(paused), cooking, carpentry(never started), fishing(never started), playing, traveling, studying psychology and other sciences, making wine(never started), theatre(never started), and dancing(leisurely).
[I did pen down my journey from engineering to writing full-time here.]
Random Questions About Life and the World.
45. Are we, humans, overall, getting more tolerant, or are we becoming more rigid?
Some of us are becoming tolerant and some are getting rigid.
46. Do all beautiful things come with thorns? Are the behavioral and emotional drawbacks and sensitivities of the most sincere human beings their spiky guards against the world?
Often the most intelligent and innovative humans are the most absurd, in common view. They are eccentric, don’t care about what others say or think, and do what they seem right. In my opinion, this eccentricity is much needed.
As Nietzsche had said once, “all superior men who were irresistibly drawn to throw off the yoke of any kind of morality and to frame new laws had, if they were not actually mad, no alternative but to make themselves or pretend to be mad.”
Books I have read: All of Nietzsche’s philosophy, Ruskin Bond’s work, The Outsider by Albert Camus. Books I want to read: A Writer’s Diary by Virginia Woolf, As Consciousness is Harnessed to Flesh: Diaries by Susan Sontag, and Madame Curie: A Biography, and the progressive classic and contemporary books and auto/biographies.
47. How would it be if money didn’t lead to prestige but only served its primitive purpose?
The scales would shift to it being all about prestige.
48. Humans can adapt to almost any change. Then why do we fret and cry when we see even the tiniest part of our day or life move in an unexpected direction?
Because our minds and bodies are lazy and don’t want to do any extra work. We grow comfortable in our space out of habit. To break the routine, we bring change, but then we fear that change.
49. Is working less really such an amazing thing as people say it is?
Maybe. Because in the time in which I am not obligated to produce any result, I learn, play, spend time with my loved ones, plan, ponder, go to a park or hike, read the news, cook, work out, grow, and live.
But when I enjoy my work more than at least a few (or all) these activities, the time segregation fades away. We shouldn’t wish to work less in the beginning years as we build foundational skills in that time that would make all the difference. Also, work and life should bleed into each other.
Also read: Work should not be boring
50. Now we put ourselves before anyone else. But what if we were made to do it the other way round? Would the system work?
It would be chaotic. Everyone trying to do something for the other person. Some people would lose, and some would be over-cared for. So selfishness isn’t that bad, after all.
51. Do the problems of a human evolve or do we keep thinking about the same things?
We love to worry about the same things over and over. As I describe in my learnings from life, if I am thinking about the same problems repeatedly (the dictionary of Obscure Sorrows describes this weariness with the same old issues as Altschmerz) it doesn’t mean that I haven’t made any progress. Progress reflects in how I struggle with those problems.
52. Is having problems bad?
No. Old problems mean we care. New problems mean we are trying to move. None of it is bad.
More Questions to Myself and To See if I Am Growing
53. Am I learning every day?
54. How would you know what is useful and what is not until you try?
Do what drives your heart. Listen to your innermost voices. Do try.
55. If I had to choose between only telling lies all my life or had to only speak the truth for the rest of my life, what would I choose?
I would choose to lie, keeping up with truth seems hard, at least for now. (The Invention of Lying is a good movie in this context. I do remember an older movie in which lying was invented but I cannot remember the name of that one.)
56. Does anger help me put across my point of view or the course of action to be taken by the other person or show the earnestness of the issue at hand clearly?
Anger shows weakness. But sometimes I can’t help shout or be angry because the other person didn’t pay any regards to what I said or asked of her.
Anger is not justified when dealing with personal matters even if close people have wronged me. But sometimes instructions soaked in a bit of anger help getting things done on time and properly.
One should always try and avoid anger as much as they can.
57. Immediate fun or longer purpose — how to choose?
In the absence of a bigger goal, I would be lost. I would indulge in immediate gratification but that won’t do me much good on long-term as I would get bored of indulging, too, and then I would have nothing to fall back upon.
My work, writing, and other systems hold me together, helps me map myself in the world. And because they add such high value to my life, it is only natural that I have to give back to even deserve them.
I repay these systems by choosing them over other momentary pleasures. But in the middle of it all, I should sit down and rest sometimes. There is nothing wrong with pausing.
Also read: How to choose between ambition and happiness, as inspired by Nietzsche.
58. Am I getting affected by people and are my decisions influenced by them?
At first, yes. Then I collect myself, shake off the craving for glamor, and do what I think is the best for me. But we would never know to what extent are we influenced by the present and the past people.
59. Can there be a balance between conventional and unconventional? Is your conventional side a social response or the real you? Do your unconventional traits define you or can they be attributed to peer influence?
I would have been more freely flowing had I not been constrained by some of the societal norms that I am still in the process of erasing(from my mind). I can do anything I like, live in a camper van in the jungles of Ohio or backpack Africa for years, but I still feel restricted by society even though I don’t care, as I say.
I think I try to find a mid-point so to keep them and me, both of us, moderately happy. So a camper van turns into backpacking and Africa for years changes to months.
60. Who are my friends?
The one who would tell me if I did something wrong but would still be my friend. The one who would have my back when I am not there.
61. Who should we consider family?
People who are related by blood and who behave so. Those who run into me for a few minutes on the street or stay with me for a few days on a trip and show me compassion and kindness and try to understand me. I am not constrained to make a family only with the people I know by birth. My family could be spread around the world. We are all part of one.
Jules Jacques Veyrassat / Public domain
62. Am I easy on myself?
Not always. I should be.
63. How can I quantify effort?
The number of hours we have put and the depth we are ready to dig in define effort. If I spend 70 hours a week writing and reading, but I don’t try to correct grammar issues or don’t read something incomprehensible a second time, my efforts are compromised.
64. Do I like life?
Yes. It is the most successful random occurrence of bizarre events one could have never imagined. As someone said, how are we not amazed every day that we are even here.
65. Do I like my life?
Yes. I am so excited about the possibilities that I can’t even sleep some nights.
But it is all going to end..
Philosophical Questions About Life.
66. What is the meaning of life? When we leave empty-handed, why do we go on living as if there is no end when the next moment could be the finale?
I am still figuring out the answer to this one. But here is what I know so far.
We have evolved through survival (though I often wonder what does breathing even mean). We must all be interconnected — nature and us — for we evolved to be pretty interdependent on each other. There is no food without the sun and no life without water and no survival without plants. Everything works for everything else.
The bigger goal of life is to keep the world running. Our instincts always make us prefer a goal that adds value to the world — to something bigger than us. The meaning seems to be survival. As H.G.Wells demonstrated in his book The Time Machine that when humans had idealized their living conditions, they had no reason to strive.
I feel that being here, at this moment, and going through the rut is the purpose of life.
Books I have read: Victor Frankl Man’s Search for Meaning, Nietzsche’s philosophy, The Wisdom of Insecurity, A Message for an Age of Anxiety. Books I want to read: The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus and The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin.
67. What will happen after I go?
I will no longer breathe. My heart would not pump blood anymore. My body will be devoid of life. My consciousness would cease to exist within me but would continue to be merged with the world in the form of life I have already lived.
68. Why do I go on living like I’m the nucleus of the world?
The feeling that the self is the only one that exists is known as solipsism. We all feel that we are the only ones, and this is a profound irony of our world.
I am typing these words and the birds are chirping outside and the neighbor’s dog is barking and my husband is working outside— all of this seems to be happening in my world, and mine, only. But while you are reading these biggest questions in life, similar things are happening in your world, and yours, only.
I can’t comprehend a world without me at its center. You can’t either. Yet when we go, the world goes on.
We are at the center of our world to maintain equilibrium.
Books I have read in this regard: The Wisdom of Insecurity.
I need to read a lot more to understand.
69. Is my meditation of “being” stronger than the animals? Does solipsism exist for nonhuman animals?
I don’t fully understand the idea of self for nonhuman animals. Things to read: Taking Solipsism Seriously: Nonhuman Animals and Meta-cognitive Theories of Consciousness.
70. What if time wasn’t linear? How can we be advancing forward always?
Though much has been written about time and philosophers from around the world interpret it differently, I believe time grows in concentric circles. Time isn’t linear. While one wave of time is pulsating, another one flows in. And this keeps going on. At any time we have millions of these waves intersecting with each other in manners unknown.
Past and present overlap all the time. Though we only need to focus on the right now, for that is the only thing under our control, our past is affecting us all the time.
I need to read more about time.
71. Do I love enough?
I don’t know. There are times when I don’t love everyone as much as I should.
72. What is the one thing you would pass on if we all disappeared tomorrow?
(Inspired by RadioLabs podcast Cataclysm sentence)
I would pass on nothing. We all came in and made our own space, learned everything, and established life and its paraphernalia. I would let the oncoming generation, too, to figure it all out themselves and not daze them by an out of context message. [My answer is similar to Jaron Lanier’s from the episode but this is how I feel.]
73. Do I have a guardian angel?
74. Am I a guardian angel for someone?
75. If staying quiet makes things easier, should we not say anything in a personal or general situation even when we strongly disagree?
Sometimes speaking about how I feel has made people dislike me, and I have been reprimanded by close people for making issues out of dust.
Reflecting upon that time, I realize that when I was judged or generalized in a negative way, I wasn’t always at fault. The person who had sent the feedback my way was scrutinizing me under the lens of her own negativity, jealousy, inexperience, and voyeuristic instincts.
But I stopped responding to those negative comments as I was scared of being further sucked into the whirlpool of criticism attracting the remarks of being irritable or angry. I wish I could have spoken for myself in a polite and friendly manner. But I didn’t know any better.
Because I didn’t stand up gaily for myself then, I never got closure, and a lot of those comments still hurt me and have estranged my relationship with those people. They haven’t changed and aren’t even aware of the harms caused.
Standing up for oneself modestly is important to save relationships. We can smile and take feedback and tell what we think is right and then move on.
But when I meet someone obstinate, I don’t have to prove my point. I can put across my thoughts and that’s it. The further I try to push my view, the further I would send the other person from accepting them or putting them under his lens of review.
Now, the Two Most Important Questions.
76. Where is my home?
My partner is my portable home.
77. Does life seem to give everything I wish for?
“Hence the ways of men part: if you wish to strive for peace of soul and pleasure, then believe; if you wish to be a devotee of truth, then inquire…” Nietzsche once said.
Please note: Though I have shared relevant books throughout the article, you can look at my Goodreads wish-to-read shelf or my Amazon Wishlist, both of which represent a compact version of the books I want to read. I have read other books, too, that I have not mentioned here due to memory loss or just because.
What are some of the deep questions about life that make you think? Let me know in the comments.
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