There are so many things that you could care about, uphold and adore in your life; respect, integrity, affluence, influence, altruism, loyalty, independence, piety (religion), creativity, fairness and the list goes to hundreds. However, each one of us has a few of these that we consider to be most important and try to live by. These become our values. Values are pretty much shaped by our experiences in life, and as much as experiences change, our values can change over time. Personal values influence the way we see the world, make decisions and respond to issues. Knowing you values and being clear about what is most important is very important for several reasons.
1. Helps you be authentic and know when to say no
Our world is getting more and more complex and demands for our attention and effort are ever increasing. Imagine if you had to agree to every request, buy every new product in the market, accept every invitation, go to every party, use each and every word or just take any job there is. Your life would be overwhelmed and you will be dissatisfied for the most part because you would have accommodated stuff that are not compatible with who you really are. This is why we have to say “NO” to many things in life. But how do we know what to say no to and when? Our values! Values act like a filter, letting through only what will be smooth for us. They define who we are and what would make us happy while we keep it simple.
2. Makes decision making easy
Anyone who has ever made a big decision and lived with it happily thereafter will tell you that they made the decision based on values; whether it was a personal matter, a family matter or an organizational matter. Two things are true, we cannot avoid making decisions and they are not always easy to make. We therefore need to have an established set of qualities that we can measure against our options to see which ones will serve us best. To see how this works, think about a time when you made a decision very easily and in retrospect were still happy with. I bet you had to choose between what was very important to you and what was not as important, and so it didn’t take you time and a lot of thinking to know which one would make you happy. By knowing beforehand what is important to us, the decision making process becomes so much easier.
3. Gives you a sense of fulfillment and happiness
All human beings crave for a spiritual satisfaction called happiness and a spiritual freedom called fulfillment. We achieve this by satisfying and meeting our inner needs which are created by what we value most. In other words, by valuing something internally we create its demand which we meet by doing, hearing, associating with or experiencing what offers those qualities. Take for instance a person who values integrity; they create within a need to see integrity, and by doing things with integrity become happy. On the other hand, doing something without integrity will cause them a strong feeling of guilt. Think of a person who values wealth, by accumulating wealth they meet their inner (not physical) need for wealth and so become happy. If you failed to understand someone who quit a well-paying job for a less paying one because they felt that their need for independence was not met in their well-paying job, maybe you can understand something else –they value independence way more than you do. Knowing what you value gives you the ability to meet your inner demands and achieve satisfaction and freedom.
4. Helps you troubleshoot stress
How stressful can being stressed for god-knows-what-reason be? Every one of us has been through this at least once in a lifetime. It could be that something happened, or you did something or someone did something to you and you felt really bad. Well, that was most probably a conflict of values. I’ll share an experience of mine. Once a friend of mine did something behind my back which was to be good for us in the long run, I felt really bad. Fortunately, I knew my values and so it was easy to understand why I felt bad despite the fact that what he did was good for us. One of my values is “loyalty” and when I go against that or someone does not act in accordance to that I get really frustrated. Knowing that helped me control the frustration by reasoning myself out since I knew what the problem is. Sometimes knowing the exact reason you are stressed can be the perfect solution for your stress.
5. Gives you control over your life
One of the things central to being a human is free will. Everyone needs and can make decisions of his own. However, there are several forces that at least try to influence or force us to make certain kinds of decisions; peers, parents, formal authority among others. However, as we have seen before, to really be happy we need to make decisions in line with who we really are, and that requires clarity of personal values. A person who does not know their values, can be misled by peers or parents to make a decision that pleases them but is dissatisfying to the individual. When one is clear about what is most important to them they can then make decisions of their own and have control of their life. A common example is that of a child growing up. When we were all kids we knew virtually nothing, and our parents had control over what we did, saw or engaged with. However, as we grew up that leash wore slowly because we started generating preferences and were able to make decisions of our own. This is what maturity infers to. By knowing who you are and what your inner needs are, you then have the ability to decide where to steer your life to for satisfaction.
Knowing your values
I first want to point out that we intuitively already know what our values are, and so what we are trying to achieve here is clarity of what matters most. There are different activities you could possibly do to figure out your values. The key is to get within and let your inner self speak out without the judgement of your conscious mind
• Find a quiet place and spend 15 minutes to reminisce: Think about moments in life that you felt happy, satisfied and comfortable and those moments that you felt guilty, dissatisfied, unhappy or incomplete. Also think of people you appreciate most and activities you appreciate most and why you adore them
• Then set a 2 minutes timer
• Spend the two minutes nonstop listing words that describe those moments, people and activities (both the good and bad)
• Go through your list rewording the list to nouns that represent the positive qualities from your happiness and the opposite of the negative qualities from your unhappy moments (some examples are on the image above)
• Draw a table with 4 columns (Never Important, Sometimes Important, Rarely Important, and Very Important) and write each value under a column it fits.
• Share them with close friends and family and ask for their feedback (If it starts a discussion, that’s a good thing).