How easy is it to identify our values? So often they are something that we don’t really think about and therefore it can be challenging to know if we are living in ways that are consistent with them.
So what are they? What matters to you deep in your heart? What sort of person do you hope to be? What are the qualities that you value in yourself and others?
Values are not goals; they are not something that are achieved and that’s the end of it. They are more like a compass, guiding us towards the directions we want to take in life and helping us to make decisions that take us there. Our values are unique to us as individuals and help us to find meaning in the lives we lead. They are ‘intentional qualities of action that join together a string of moments into a meaningful path’ (Steve Hayes).
Meaning does not however fall in our laps; it is something that we have to actively discover and nurture. It takes time and intention, looking around and reflecting on your life to see what matters to you. What do you want to stand for and be remembered for? How do you want to relate to others, the world and yourself? How can these lead to you acting in certain ways?
There are many ways in which to do this and you can find a number of exercises online that help you to discover your values, however these questions by Russ Harris are an excellent starting point:
- Family relations.
What sort of brother/sister, son/daughter, uncle/auntie do you want to be? What personal qualities would you like to bring to those relationships? What sort of relationships would you like to build? How would you interact with others if you were the ideal you in these relationships?
- Marriage/couples/intimate relations.
What sort of partner would you like to be in an intimate relationship? What personal qualities would you like to develop? What sort of relationship would you like to build? How would you interact with your partner if you were the ‘ideal you’ in this relationship?
What sort of parent would you like to be? What sort of qualities would you like to have? What sort of relationships would you like to build with your children? How would you behave if you were the ‘ideal you’.
- Friendships/social life.
What sort of qualities would you like to bring to your friendships? If you could be the best friend possible, how would you behave towards your friends? What sort of friendships would you like to build?
What do you value in your work? What would make it more meaningful? What kind of worker would you like to be? If you were living up to your own ideal standards, what personal qualities would you like to bring to your work? What sort of work relations would you like to build?
- Education/personal growth and development.
What do you value about learning, education, training, or personal growth? What new skills would you like to learn? What knowledge would you like to gain? What further education appeals to you? What sort of student would you like to be? What personal qualities would you like to apply?
What sorts of hobbies, sports, or leisure activities do you enjoy? How do you relax and unwind? How do you have fun? What sorts of activities would you like to do?
Whatever spirituality means to you is fine. It may be as simple as communing with nature, or as formal as participation in an organised religious group. What is important t to you in this area of life?
- Citizenship/ environment/ community life.
How would you like to contribute to your community or environment, e.g. through volunteering, or recycling, or supporting a group/ charity/ political party? What sort of environments would you like to create at home, and at work? What environments would you like to spend more time in?
- Health/physical well-being.
What are your values related to maintaining your physical well-being? How do you want to look after your health, with regard to sleep, diet, exercise, smoking, alcohol, etc.? Why is this important? Russ Harris (2008) www.thehappinesstrap.com
Once you are clear on what your values are, you can start to ask yourself whether you are living fully by your values, or acting inconsistently with them. The answers to these questions can help you to gauge what changes you might like to make with your behaviour in order to purposely move towards what is important to you and how you wish to live your life.