Tyler Cowen once suggested that if you want to find out what someone really believes, ask him what he thinks everyone else believes.
A slight re-frame can elicit the information you’re looking for.
Here’s a re-frame I thought of: If you want to find out what someone really does for a living, ask him what he does “on a day-to-day basis.”
Usually, when you ask someone, “What do you do?” you get a grand, idealized vision of what their job is supposed to be. Hence, I follow this question with, “Interesting. So what does that entail on a day-to-day basis?” This question reveals a more concrete and helpful description.
Breaking down time into micro-chunks is also helpful for evaluating happiness. It’s hard to contemplate the present-tense question, “Are you happy?” in the abstract. Past and future tense also fail. Looking back in time, we rationalize. Looking forward in time, we make terrible predictions about what will make us happy. So, one of the most famous and effective studies of happiness involved participants who carried around pagers and, several times a day in the heat of a moment, took note of how they were feeling. The researcher then evaluated the aggregate of these momentary entries.
Bottom Line: The best inquires about one’s work and life are rooted in day-to-day activities and feelings.