Steve Jobs Said Your Overall Happiness in Life Really Comes Down to Asking 3 Simple Questions

Steve Jobs.
Steve Jobs. Photo: Getty Images.

Before his untimely death, Steve Jobs gave us a powerful lesson on living the best possible life.

Six years before his untimely death, Steve Jobs dropped this bombshell of truth on our psyche:

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.

The co-founder of Apple delivered these words to a newly minted class of Stanford University graduates in 2005. Not long before the commencement, Jobs had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and was given between three and six months to live.

Facing his own mortality had impressed upon him the importance of living the best possible life, and it was a message he passed on to the new graduates, and to the rest of the world watching.

3 questions you should be asking

Jobs’s message gave us plenty of things to chew on about what truly matters in our own lives. And to this day, whenever I watch that commencement speech, it forces me to look in the mirror and ask myself some really powerful, Jobs-inspired questions that, I hope, you will ask yourself.

1. Am I living the life that I want and doing the work that I want to do?

In the face of his looming death, something powerful shifted inside Jobs. He began to live each day as if it was his last–because it may have been. Thinking about the limited amount of time you and I have left on this earth isn’t meant to be a downer. On the contrary, it empowers us to use that precious time in the most meaningful way possible.

Jobs called facing his death “the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life.” Almost everything, he said — our fears, failures, and our pride — “fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.”

2. “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?”

This is a question that Jobs said he asked himself every day — while literally standing in front of his mirror — after being diagnosed with his terminal illness.

Jobs said, “Whenever the answer has been no for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.” If I asked myself that same question every day during this stage of my life and career, the answer would be a resounding “yes!” I say this because I’m doing what I have passionately been called to do and I’m living out my purpose.

I urge you to do the same. Be willing to confront yourself and ask this same question when you start your day. Pay attention to what’s coming up for you as you check in with your feelings. If you’re being true to yourself, it can be frightening to admit you’re not living the life you want, but it’s the only way to pivot toward the pursuit of something new–something that may be your true calling.

3. Am I doing what I love?

As Jobs explains, living someone else’s life is wasting your own. Instead, he urges you to find the role you were meant to fill.

You’ve got to find what you love. … Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.

Doing what we love gives us purpose, which fuels our drive to get up in the morning and, in the words of Warren Buffett, “tap dance to work.” Research published in Harvard Business Review concluded that to be fully engaged and happy, people need to feel as if their work matters and that their contributions help to achieve something important.

When people find purpose in their work, and they love what they do, it will not only improve that person’s happiness, it will boost their productivity. To end on a hopeful note, if you don’t know what it is you love to do, then I urge your first step to be finding out what it is you should be doing. Don’t just take my word for it; it’s what Steve Jobs would want you to do as well.