Questions have power.

The right question delivered at the right time can completely change a situation for the better. It can shift our thinking in a matter of seconds, and alter the course of whatever it is we’re dealing with. 

This past weekend I was playing games at home with both of my kids when my two year old daughter tried to hit her little brother on the head with a spoon. She had been in timeout earlier in the morning for doing the same thing with building blocks. So, needless to say, I was already on edge with her newly found penchant for making her brother cry via blunt objects to the skull.

In a jerk moment I’m not proud of I gave her a gentle-ish spank on the bottom and whisked her upstairs to put her down for a nap. She went to bed crying in a situation that I let escalate from standard two year old behavior to my daughter being scared and upset.

I sat on the couch nearly in tears, angry at myself for letting the situation get the best of me. If you know the father-daughter bond, you understand why.

I sat reflecting on the scenario, wanting to come up with a way to avoid situations like this in the future. It is absolutely inevitable that my kids will push me to my limits on a regular basis. But what’s not inevitable is how I respond. That part is a choice.

And so I asked myself a single question.

What would this look like if I were happy?

As in, if could go back in time to the exact moment before I lost my cool with my daughter, and I could picture myself being happy in that moment, what it would it look like?

To start, I would have seen the situation for what it is – a normal, daily occurrence between brother and sister. Beyond that, I would have exercised patience over reaction, and I would have seen the situation as an opportunity to teach, engage my kids, and defuse the moment. And at its most basic, I would have found gratitude for even having two kids to be in this situation with.

That small moment between patience and reaction is where asking myself What would this look like if I were happy? would have made all the difference.

The beauty of the question is that it applies to our everyday lives. Whether it’s our work, our relationship, or our kids, we all have low points during the day that would benefit from some brief introspection.

Because ultimately happiness is a choice. We get to decide who we are and how we feel in each moment. But our emotions get the best of us when we don’t have the right questions at our fingertips to ask when we need them.

So the next time my daughter projects a toy at her brother’s head, or I get the Sunday dread of the work week, or I start feeling stressed from some obligation, deadline, or anything else, I’ll know what question to ask.

And hopefully that question, nine simple words, will change the outcome for the better.

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