Your values make you who you are, yet many people don’t fully know how to even define or explain their values. Your values dictate how you act, respond to situations, and where you place your time and energy in life.
For example, someone who places high value on career success will be driven to work more hours, spend greater time toward making advances at work, perhaps at the sacrifice of time with family and friends. A person who places a high value on family may chose to forgo a better job placement or position because it will impede on evenings and weekend time with their family. What you value dictates the course of your day to day life, but also your future.
Do you know what you truly value in your life and the world around you? If you don’t, you may be a person who is unhappy in life or feeling dissatisfied with your current life status, yet you can’t put your finger on why you are feeling this way.
Everyone should know their values, because research shows that there are specific values that can make you happier and satisfied with life in the long term. Conversely there are values, that although they may seem good, will ultimately lead to life dissatisfaction.
Below I will explain how to identify which of these values are beneficial for long term life satisfaction and which are not.
What You Value Determines Your Life
In my 20’s, I was very driven to get my education completed and also attain wealth/a comfortable lifestyle. I had once been a person of devout faith and thus it was formerly a core value in my life. Life circumstances and a series of unfortunate events changed my values and I instead focused my time, energy, and life purposes on getting my doctorate and attaining wealth. I ended up marrying into the wealth and did complete my doctorate. I lived a life of comfort, that I thought I wanted. I also experienced great successes in my educational pursuits including post doctorate studies at Harvard; yet I was still feeling unsatisfied. I knew that there was something missing in my life. My value in my faith had been put to the wayside.
After a divorce at age 30, I reassessed my values. I decided wealth was no longer high on the list of my personal values. I also determined that faith/religion and family were going to be my top priorities. My life changed for the positive and I have experienced life satisfaction beyond measure. I no longer live in a 10,000 square foot home on the beach, but it doesn’t matter to me because I have faith and family.
My life satisfaction is now much higher than those years in my 20’s. In my 20’s, it appeared outwardly to the world that I had it all, yet I was feeling a gaping hole of something missing in my life. What I didn’t realize when I made that personal decision to make such dramatic life changes at the age of 30 was that research supported my decision to find greater meaning through faith and family and not career success and wealth. It took me 10 years to figure this out.
A Fulfilling Life Comes from What’s Within You
Some people struggle their entire life with finding life satisfaction and meaning and it all comes down to choosing values that create meaning in life. Do your core values support long term life satisfaction and meaning in life or are they wrapped up in temporary happiness and material things?
Research in Scientific America examined a plethora of studies on the subject of happiness, life satisfaction, and values to assess what makes people happy in life. Their findings found that people who had meaningful interpersonal relationships reported higher life satisfaction. They also reported that increased wealth has not made people happier in the long term.
Faith/religion also play a very important role in life satisfaction, as the following was stated in this article regarding research on the topic of faith and religion:
One Gallup survey found that highly religious people were twice as likely as those lowest in spiritual commitment to declare themselves very happy. Other surveys including a 16-nation collaborative study of 166,000 people in 14 nations, have found that reported happiness and life satisfaction rise with strength of religious affiliation and frequency of attendance at worship services.
Placing value in your faith, religious practices, and worship service attendance therefore is highly likely to increase your satisfaction in life.
I personally know that my faith is what has given me the greatest satisfaction in life and my family comes in a close second. Research supports this emphasis on interpersonal relationships and faith as a way to increase satisfaction in life. The pursuit of increased wealth or income did not increase life satisfaction long term, according to these research studies. My personal life is a testament of this, and research also supports these views on values.
The Benefit of Defining Your Values
In my 20’s, I hadn’t formally defined my values. I allowed them to be shaped according to my life experiences, rather than consciously making a decision to define my values. Therefore, I didn’t really have an understanding of why I was making the decisions that I was making. I was basing my decisions on thoughts and feelings as my driving force, rather than having an understanding of the need for core values to be defined in my life.
Research in Psychological Sciences showed that people who had defined their cored values experiences lower stress levels:
These findings suggest that reflecting on personal values can keep neuroendocrine and psychological responses to stress at low levels.
Knowing your values helps you increase life satisfaction and decrease life stress. Had I defined my values I may have chosen a different path. I would have experienced lower stress during that period of life in my 20’s, if I had clearly defined values.
How to Know Your Values
Examine the list below and see if any of the values stand out to you as most important. Then follow the set of instructions below to help you narrow down your values to determine what is truly important to you in life.
- Career Success
- Community Involvement
- Giving back to others
- Meaningful Work
As you follow the instructions below, feel free to add your own values that may not be on the above list, as it is not comprehensive. The list of values could be endless, but these were simply some of the most common.
- As you look over the list, write down 5-10 values that you believe helped you during a difficult time in life.
- Next, look over the list again and write down another 5-10 values that you believe have helped you in your most successful times in life.
- Finally, of the 10-20 values that you wrote down, look them over and think of a time in your life when you felt most satisfied. Now circle the top 5 values that you believe helped you during that period of your life when you felt most satisfied.
Don’t discount the other values you wrote down, as they are still top values to you. It is helpful to recognize the top five though, as these will significantly shape your decision making and the course of your life.
Aligning Life with Your Core
Now that you recognize what you value most in this world, it is time to test out these values. Here is a practical way to begin aligning your life with the top five values you outlined: write down five sentences for each value that begins as follows.
I value (Fill in the blank), so I will (fill in the blank with something that aligns with that value).
Try to think of 3-5 statements for each of your top five values. Write these statements clearly and with intention of acting on them. Post your statements in a place this is clearly visible for you to see each day, such as a the front of your refrigerator or your bathroom mirror.
Here is an example of three statements for the value of faith:
- I value faith, so I will attend weekly worship services.
- I value faith, so I will commit to reading a daily religious devotional.
- I value faith, so I will pray often every day.
Proof Is in Your Actions
The way to show your values matter is by acting on them. If you don’t take action on your values, they are of no worth or benefit to you.
If you value honesty, yet you have a habit of being dishonest in business practices, then you need to assess your actions. Take an honest look at yourself and what you value. Are you practicing those values or do you simply admire that value and wish you put it into practice? Set yourself up for success in your values by finding ways to practice your values in everyday life. For example, if you value your health, then you should have exercising and eating right as priorities in your everyday life.
Values are only effective and useful if you put them into practice daily. Living a satisfied life has a great deal to do with the values you hold in your mind and heart along with how well you put those values into practice consistently.
|||^||Scientific America: The Pursuit of Happiness|
|||^||Psychological Sciences: Affirmation of Personal Values Buffers Neuroendocrine and Psychological Stress Responses|