Values are not always something that we consider. Many of us go through our lives, doing the best we can, doing what we think we need to do. Many of us had parents that taught us how to behave, and how to think about the world. But values are more than that.
Russ Harris states, “Values are your heart’s deepest desires for how you want to behave as a human being. Values are not about what you want to get or achieve; they are about how you want to behave or act on an ongoing basis.” Research tells us that when we listen to our values and beliefs, and make decisions accordingly, we are more content and live more meaningful lives. These values help us find meaning and purpose, even in the face of difficult or painful experiences.
Moreover, values are very individual. They are not based around what others expect of us, or what we think we should be doing. We choose our own values. Even more, we are called to choose our own values. If we only make decisions about who we are and what is right for us based upon what others tell us, we will likely never feel fulfilled. We will have the most meaning in our lives when we define who we want to be and try to act in these ways throughout our days, weeks, and lives.
Our values can change throughout our lives. At one point in our lives, we may focus on our career path. As a result, we may invest time and energy in these regards. However, throughout our lives, we may find that our values shift to encompass other things, like family, friendships, and health. We may still care about our job or career, but find our family relationships far more meaningful. These kinds of shifts are normal and healthy.
How do we find our values?
There are many, many ways to tap into your values. However, here are a few things to consider:
Ask yourself, “Who would l like to be?” What would that look like?
Maybe you have dreams of being a scientist, a writer, or a parent. Maybe you have dreams of traveling or of doing certain activities with your family, like games or sports. You may find you enjoy fun, athletics, science or health. These values are important to pay attention to. They reflect who you are.
Consider, is there any time or any place where you feel like your true self?
Do you feel more like yourself around certain people? Do certain people seem to bring out the best in you? If so, try and identify what those characteristics are?
Sometimes, I think back to one of my summer jobs in high school and college. Although it was a physical job (with children), I loved the opportunity to work with my friends, laugh at silly things, and feel relaxed. I loved working with kids, particularly those with special needs. These reflect my values for humor and silliness, as well as relaxing and physical health. It also reflects my career interests of doing meaningful work with children.
What would I do if I wasn’t scared?
Many times, in life, our fear holds us back. We play it safe. We may hide how we feel, or not take the chances that we could, even though our hearts want to. Maybe we never introduce ourselves to that person that we have things in common with. Maybe we never take that art class that seems interesting. Consider, what would we do if we weren’t scared? Who would we want to be?
Life is a process of getting to know ourselves and who we want to be. However, by taking the opportunity to know ourselves and listen to our values, we can increase our contentment and deepen our the level of meaning that we experience.
What are you grateful for?
Sometimes, exercises in gratitude also provide glimpses in terms of what is important to us. We may find, however, that it is not the grand, expensive things that provide us the most joy. We may find that we cherish simple, loving interactions with others and with the world.
All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better.Ralph Waldo Emerson