Make People Feel Good About Themselves With Two Questions

Make People Feel Good About Themselves With Two Questions

To give someone a boost, ask them about a specific aspect of their life where they are doing well and follow it up with a generic question about their overall happiness. It sounds simplistic, but it works wonders, according to Nobel laureate psychologist Daniel Kahneman.

Photo by mark sebastian.

In a study, Kahneman asked students two questions:

How many dates did you have last month?

How happy are you these days?

Those who were happy about their answer to the first question also reported a happy answer to the second, the study found. The first question needn’t be that one specifically, of course. You can ask any question that you think the answer will be something that puts the person in a positive mood.

If the order of the questions is reversed, it doesn’t work. Kahneman theorises that this is because “happiness” is not an easy or quick assessment, and so the state of mind from the previous question is carried over into answering the second.

The emotion aroused by the dating question was still on everyone’s mind when the query about general happiness came up… “Happiness these days” is not a natural or an easy assessment. A good answer requires a fair amount of thinking. However, the students who had just been asked about their dating did not need to think hard because they already had in their mind an answer to a related question: how happy they were with their love life.

The same pattern is found if a question about the students’ relations with their parents or about their finances immediately precedes the question about general happiness. In both cases, satisfaction in the particular domain dominates happiness reports. Any emotionally significant question that alters a person’s mood will have the same effect.

Eric Barker, who recounts this study, also notes in The Week that the two-question technique could be successfully employed to make people like you. If someone is feeling good about themselves because of what you asked them, they will transfer those feelings towards you.

How to make someone feel fantastic (or awful) about their entire life [Barking up the wrong tree via The Week]


  • How many dates did you have last month?
    “None…. why???”
    How happy are you these days?
    “Im not! My partner just died in a horrible fiery crash last month and you knew it! WHY WOULD YOU ASK THIS!”

    That’s what my outcome would likely be… my lucks just that shitty :\

        • Just felt a bit less like bad luck and more like a big dick move

          How’s the wife? Oh that’s right, she’s dead! Bwahahaha loser!

          • Hahahaha so much fun to be had with these questions though…

            Normally to be honest, you’ll make a person feel better if you ask them positive oriented questions about themselves and show genuine interest in them. If you’re in a conversation and don’t be self centered, no matter what you ask, you’ll generally get a positive result.

  • Well, they do say that the first question must be tailored to the person you’re asking (then the second question reinforces whatever impression that may be).

    That does make the advice given pretty useless unfortunately. The article should be titled “how to ask a question that reinforces the feeling given by the immediately preceding question”.

    There are a lot of people around for whom picking that first question borders on impossible…

  • Its a bit less making people feel good about themselves and a bit more emotional manipulation for beginners

  • How many dates did you have last month?
    Not many, I prefer prunes
    How happy are you these days?
    “Well it keeps me regular”

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