One question that changed my life

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I used to believe that those one second moments that change a person’s life happen only in movies, and this belief existed because of two reasons. Firstly, they never happened to me and secondly, they seemed impossible.

I won’t deny, the way they show that happening in movies is indeed impossible and as much as you might want to believe in it, it’s very unlikely that you will find yourself experiencing one of those magical moments when your life turns vibrantly colorful from a depressing shade of black and white, that too in slow motion.

However, moments that can change your life do come though, not how you might have expected but they do. And the reason I can assure you that is because one came in mine. Take a few minutes, and hear me out and you will know what I am talking about.

It was in grade 12 when I started talking to this girl. She was amazing, compassionate, had the right sense of humor, the perfect laugh and a very beautiful pair of eyes. Needless to say, I loved talking to her.

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But there was one problem though, she lived in a time-zone that was 9 hours away (let’s keep that for another day), and I had my own problems (like most basic teens do), and as much as we wanted to do, we could talk to each other very rarely, like once a week on average.

Our conversations were very normal to be honest where we just caught up and shared a laugh from time to time. Short, simple and I loved them.

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However, there was this unique way through which we started our conversations though and it was with her asking “What was the highlight of your week?” A very simple conversation starter that allowed us to share all that happened in our lives since we last had a talk, the perfect question.

Now inspired by the title, if you had been waiting all this time to discover the question that changed my life, wait no more, because here it is.

“What was the highlight of your week?”

That’s the question.

Now wait, hold on! That’s it? This question changed your life? Are you serious right now? That wasn’t what I was expecting and a huge downer to be honest. You have wasted 5 minutes of my entire life!

If these are the thoughts that you are having right now, I won’t blame you because like I said these moments don’t really appear like they show in the movies, taking your breath away in the blink of an eye.

They happen and they go away, you forget about it just like that. But if the time was right and that was the moment, you will suddenly remember it one day while doing something completely irrelevant and from that day onwards, you will never be able to think the same way again, you will always do things differently.

What followed the question were pretty ordinary replies which were primarily summarized flashbacks of everything I had done that week and honestly, people have these conversations all the time and this wasn’t any different.

But one day I was talking about how happy I felt when I ditched a class to go to a football match and that’s when it hit me: The happiness, the excitement, the fond way I looked back and talked about things that were unusual in my week, the things I don’t usually do.

I realized my weeks were always the summary and accumulation of those unusual moments. I never talked about the things I did because I had to, my classes or my extracurricular activities.

I talked about the unusual things only. It wasn’t because I was trying to sound different or anything or was trying to impress her. It was because those were the moments I remembered and cherished.

Those moments defined my life. And it made me think, if 30 years from now, I look back at my life and tried to cherish the moments I lived what I will be remembering are the highlights of my week. And the way to actually have those highlights is to create them in the moment.

And that’s how it all changed. Every time I was going to decide between an exciting thing I wanted to do and a thing I felt I had to, I asked myself, “which one can be the highlight of my week?” and then I had my answers.

Revise for my exam or go bowling for the first time? Go to football practice or go to my friend’s concert? Keep looking at that pretty girl across the room or ask her out? In each case, if you ask that question, I am pretty sure you will know what the answer was and what I ended up doing.

I realize I don’t regret the things I have done

And that’s the question changed my life, not in the blink of an eye, but slowly, changing how I saw life itself, helping me live it like I wanted to, happy about memories I made, excited about moments I will live. Even my grades started improving, my sports performance rose, and more importantly, I started discovering things I was passionate about and it happened because I was happy.

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And there’s scientific evidence to show how happiness can improve performance.

You ever been in those moments where you studied all night long for an exam, ditched an exciting event and got a bad grade but there is this friend of yours who went to that event, studied few hours less than you and still got a 95?

Studying is all you try to do and you still aren’t the best in your class and meanwhile this friend of yours debates, plays the guitar, is the captain of the football team, studies only a little and still gets better grades? You ever wondered why that happens?

The answer is simple. It’s not because he is innately more talented but because he is happy, and you aren’t and that’s why he is performing better, at everything. And here is how the scenery always unfolds: You miss the event to revise your syllabus, so when the event is going on, you feel miserable and lose your concentration anyway.

When your friends come back from the event, you see them all smiling and excited and this makes your misery worse, and the rest of the night is spent in sadness. On the exam next day, you remind yourself all that you sacrificed and that you must ace this exam to make up for it. The result: an over-stressed you and bad results.
On the other hand your friend goes to the event, loves it and returns all happy. Now he tells himself that he must utilize the little time he has and thus studies in his utmost efficiency, something a sad mind couldn’t have done.

And before the exam, he tells himself that he had a lot of fun anyway and studied all that he could, so it doesn’t matter if he does poorly, he is living life in his own terms. And the result: a relaxed him and better grades.

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And this can be scientifically backed. Research of Shawn Achor, one of the leading authorities in positive psychology, shows how a happier brain is cognitively more efficient: 31% more productive, 37% more creative and 19% more accurate than a brain that’s stressed, neutral or sad.  

When I look back across the small life I have lived so far, I realize I don’t regret the things I have done. I regret the ones I didn’t. Because those regrets come with so many questions you can never answer, questions of what could’ve been and what should’ve been.

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And this makes you sad, feel helpless and makes you feel you can never do things that you want to. However, all the times I asked myself the magical question, whether this can be the highlight of my week and made my decision based on that, now that I look back, I don’t regret any of those decisions.

In fact, the outcomes are memories that I cherish, they make me happy, feel in control, excited for what’s to come and help me chase my dreams and isn’t that pursuit what life’s all about?

So, the next time you are deciding between two things, ask yourself ‘which can be the highlight of my week?’ and then follow your heart. People think that’s a mindset that one should have in only the major decisions in life.

But I will defer. I will claim that it’s a mindset that’s a way of life in itself, reflected in all the small things you do, in every decision you make. That’s a mindset that can literally change who you are. For better or worse you might ask? Well, try it out and see the answer for yourself. I promise, you won’t be disappointed.

Reference:

Achor, Shawn. The Happiness Advantage : the Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work. 1st ed., New York, Broadway Books, 2010


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Author
Seeam Shahid Noor

Seeam Shahid Noor

Seeam Shahid Noor is a freshman currently studying at Harvard University. He spends his leisure playing futsal, cricket or dreaming about the plate of Biriyani he can eat once he returns to Bangladesh for a vacation.
You can reach him at seeamnoor@college.harvard.edu
Seeam Shahid Noor
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