Living in line with one’s values, also known as valued living, has been proposed by many psychologists and philosophers as the key to sustainable happiness.
It’s been said that increased success at enacting your values was associated with increased positive affect, and therefore, satisfaction with life. When we understand our values, those things that we want to build our identity around, we feel grounded and secure, even when circumstances are anything but clear.
However, it is an all-too-common occurrence that challenging life events interfere with this ability to find valued living. A person’s focus becomes so much on dealing with the problem and regaining a sense of control that he or she loses track of what matters most in life. The individual’s life becomes characterized by an excessive focus on controlling the negative rather than living the positive. You might have felt this when you first learned of your child’s diagnosis or when you experienced an unexpected loss or emotional blow. Perhaps during the past months, when you might feel like you don’t know what might happen next, and you are doing more work running interference with your circumstances than controlling anything.
During times of stress, we strive toward resilience, which we believe will help us cope and get through.
In fact, it might be that finding out those very significant and sometimes understated values are the key to building resilience and seeing ourselves as capable of more valued actions.
If you feel like you don’t have a plan of action right now, don’t feel alone. It is very common for people to lose touch with their values during stressful times, and people with a staunch inner critic commonly interpret their inability to live in line with their values as a weakness. But that isn’t the case. Your values haven’t gone away, even if you are not entirely in touch with them right now. They are there, and it is never too late to reconnect with personal values. It could be that as you have grown and changed, and experienced new understanding, some of your values have also evolved. How you express a value will often be very different than how another person demonstrates it. People can do different things to live in line with the same value.
Your values are things that genuinely matter to you deep in your heart.
They point to what kind of person you want to be in this world and how you want to spend your time. And during life’s most challenging events, how you want to conduct yourself in the midst of these.
It’s crucial to remember that living in line with personal values does not always mean “fixing” a problem. In some cases, there is nothing you can do to change what has happened? For example, you might face an unavoidable circumstance that may argue that to live in line with the value “health,” a miracle is required. Therefore, we should instead focus on the question: What kind of person do I want to be under these conditions? This question directs attention to values that can be influenced by personal actions, such as emotion regulation, kindness, gratitude, etc.
So what are some of the values that your current stressors or crisis might have caused you to lose track of?
Here’s an exercise to help guide you. There are no wrong answers, and remember, these are not things you see in others but want to have in yourself. These are values that are part of who you are, but that might have been harder to attain recently. I’ve used a personal observation to help guide you to come up with something relevant to your life.
*So first, write down a recent life-changing experience. It should be something that impacts your life daily. For example, in my life, I’ve been unable to physically spend time with my grandchildren due to COVID state restrictions. I am struggling with this, and it’s a significant impact on my mood.
*Next, Identify your core values. This step is where you get to come up with at least three foundational values. How do they intertwine with the life-changing experience you wrote down? I chose acceptance, legacy, and relationship. If you need some help, here is a good list from a website: VALUES LIST
The values that you came up with within the previous step tell you something about your ideal self; the person you would like to be. While this challenging life event may be getting in the way of you being your ideal self, you can take action to reconnect with your values as much as possible, given the current circumstances. Why is this vital? Because...
Your present circumstances do not need to prevent you from living in line with your values.
*Now, describe what that value means to you and why it is essential to you. It can’t just be a pretty or strong word that you want to believe. When we define something, we can begin to understand how we are responsible for bringing it about in our life. Why is it important?
For me, acceptance means I have integrated something into my life so much that it’s a natural part of everyday life. It is important to me because I can more effectively live without stressing over what can’t be changed.
*And finally, consider actions you will make for this valued living. Concerning the values you listed, what steps can you take right now? What can you do
now to reconnect with these values? What actions will allow you to be, as much as possible, the person you want to be under the current circumstances? And remember, living in line with your values can look different from how you have lived by them in the past. You grow, and you evolve.
For acceptance, I chose the following actions: I will actively seek all of the benefits of this accepted thing versus how it inhibits me. Being healthy and keeping others healthy is a very significant part of supporting my legacy. I will find how it makes life better, more vibrant, and fuller by coming up with creative ways to be a part of my grand-kid's lives in a lasting way. During the current times, acceptance can mean that I do more video calling versus in-person visiting. I work toward seeing myself as a part of encouraging and teaching my grandchildren and children through my actions.
I don’t just hope for acceptance. I live it. Game-changer.
Does this sound time-consuming?
As I like to say to my clients, if you just take the time to work through it once and ultimately, it will save you so much painful time. For instance, the time you spend beating yourself up... Or asking for forgiveness... Or healing from an illness connected to just not taking care of yourself… Spend a half-hour doing some self-examination of your values, and you’ll find a new resilience to face those challenging times with healthy actions.
Joy is originally from the Central Valley of California, where she was raised on a farm and discovered her love for growing things. As the mother of a blended family of 7 adults and the grandmother of 9, she's learned many lessons about supporting the growth of people.