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7 Ways to Answer "What Do I Want to Do With My Life?"

Not sure what you want? Here are some important questions you can ask yourself.

Key points

  • Everyone's path to fulfillment in life looks a little different.
  • Understanding your core needs and values can help you maximize your happiness.
  • Identifying specific activities that are meaningful to you can help you uncover the bigger-picture shape that your life could take.
 Avi Chomotovski/Pixabay
Source: Avi Chomotovski/Pixabay

"What do I want to do with my life?" is a question we all ask ourselves at some point. We wonder: What career do we want? How do we want to spend our time? What really leads to a life worth living?

The answer to what we want to do with our lives depends on a number of things. So let's talk about some of the questions you might ask yourself to find your answer.

1. What makes you happy?

We all want happiness. We want to experience positive emotions and eudaimonia—or meaning in life. So when it comes to figuring out what we really want in life, we might first ask ourselves what makes us happy.

For example, what do we like to do? When are we the happiest? Who are we with when we are the happiest? What goals bring a smile to our faces? Now, what kind of life would help you do these things and feel this way more often?

2. What are your needs?

Next, it can be helpful to ask ourselves which needs are most important to us right now. Now, be careful not to confuse needs with wants. We might want a million dollars, while we might need financial security. We might want the perfect partner, but we might need a partner who loves us and treats us well.

According to Maslow's hierarchy of needs, social/love needs and self-esteem needs are of higher priority than self-actualization—or living up to our full potential. Other needs—like competence, autonomy, and relatedness—are also thought to be keys to well-being and living a good life (Reis et al., 2000).

3. What are your values?

Values serve as guiding principles that help us move forward in ways that matter to us (Roccas, Sagiv, Schwartz, & Knafo, 2002). So reflecting on our values can help move us in the right direction. We might value social connection, and that helps us see that what we want in life involves being around others. Or, we might value kindness, and that shows that what we want in life may be a career helping others. By reflecting on your core values, you can better understand what you want.

5. What activities do you get absorbed in?

You know that feeling when you are so absorbed in your work or activities that you lose track of time? That feeling is referred to as flow—or the positive feeling of being totally connected to our performance (Jackson & Marsh, 1996). Flow occurs when we're doing things we really love that are just the right fit for our skill level.

So, what are the activities you get super absorbed in? Knowing the answer to this question can give you clues about what you want in life.

6. What would you do if you could do anything in life?

I don't like to get people's hopes and expectations up too much—the truth is we won't be able to reach every wildest dream we might think up. But on the flip side, we often place limits on our own potential that don't need to be there. So, taking the time to at least acknowledge what you really want can help you think about ways to move in that general direction.

7. What is the gestalt of your life?

Gestalt is German for "pattern," "shape," or "configuration." In psychology, gestalt refers to the idea of a sort of picture—the different parts produce a whole. In life, we often focus a lot on the little things we might want to change—the job, the house, the car—without focusing as much on the overall picture of our lives. So when thinking about what we want in life, we may benefit from taking a step back.

So ask yourself, what kind of life do you want to lead? What kind of feelings does this life have? How will the pieces fit together? What does it look like when you look in it from the outside? Asking these questions can hopefully help you understand more about what you want in life.

This post was adapted from an article published by The Berkeley Well-Being Institute.

References

Reis, H. T., Sheldon, K. M., Gable, S. L., Roscoe, J., & Ryan, R. M. (2000). Daily well-being: The role of autonomy, competence, and relatedness. Personality and social psychology bulletin, 26(4), 419-435.

​Roccas, S., Sagiv, L., Schwartz, S. H., & Knafo, A. (2002). The big five personality factors and personal values. Personality and social psychology bulletin, 28(6), 789-801.

Jackson, S. A., & Marsh, H. W. (1996). Development and validation of a scale to measure optimal experience: The Flow State Scale. Journal of sport and exercise psychology, 18(1), 17-35.

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