Core values and the secret to happiness.
Facebook is an interesting site to observe what matters in the lives of our connections.
Over this past year friends in Canada have posted countless articles about the horrific tragedies caused by residential schools. Meanwhile, friends in the States posted numerous news stories about personal freedom.
What these posts don’t reveal is the substance behind these posts.
For instance, from the Facebook posts observed in Canada, I’d have thought social justice was a top priority in terms of personal values. But there’s an election on now and the top issues, at this time, are affordability, economy and health care.
Does that mean Canadians don’t care about social justice? No it doesn’t. It means that social justice doesn’t take priority over these issues – at this time.
But, that can change. Values do.
But what does this have to do with happiness? Everything.
The foundation for happiness and inner peace
Happiness comes when what you think, say and do all align with your core values.
Values are inherent, deep-rooted beliefs that give you a sense of what’s right and wrong, what matters and what doesn’t matter – for you. They’re unique and govern behavior and decisions.
They change over areas of your life, as well as in over the course of your life.
In your twenties, you might place priority on ambition. If you become a parent, you might place greater value on family. When you become a senior, you might place higher value on health.
Values change as we grow older, and as we learn more about the world and ourselves. Though they change over time, they’re not meant to change all the time. They form a stable foundation that guides you.
Values also change across the domains of your life. You might prioritize productivity at work, but place greater value on loyalty at home.
There are hundreds values. Yet, if you ask most people to name five, they struggle. Often they confuse values with related concepts like morals, ethics, principles, even goals.
More difficult still is naming the core values they, themselves, hold. They might manage to name a few, but identifying the ones that take priority can be a challenge.
It’s optimal to live according to 5-8 core values that stay relatively the same over time. You wouldn’t value compassion for years and then suddenly place great value on greed.
Here are some examples of values, as well as their effect on behavior:
- A person who values family will do anything for their kids
- A person who values success will work late to achieve career goals
- A person who values health will work out and eat well
- A person who values creativity might take up music
Why values matter
We make an estimated 35,000 decisions a day. When we let values guide these decisions, we focus on what matters most to us. As such our decisions are made with more efficiency and confidence. We’re also more likely to derive greater satisfaction from the results.
Having clear values also attracts people who share them, thus building friendship and social support.
If you’re not conscious of your personal values, your behaviour can be inconsistent and your decisions more complicated.
You might find yourself saying or doing things that leave you with underlying anxiety. Intuitively you know you’re going against what matters to you.
You inherently value kindness. You’re in meeting with a boss who keeps putting down a colleague. You don’t say anything. The entire time that you sit there silently, you feel anxious.
You inherently value excellence. You have a deadline. The only way to meet it is to hand in work that’s not up to par. So you do and deep down you feel annoyed at yourself.
Imagine how these situations can affect you over time?
I have a friend who values honestly. You know those people who confuse white lies with small lies? He’s not one of them. This man doesn’t lie.
In his early 30’s he had solid family ties, a community of friends from his church and a great career. He also had a drinking problem.
The issue? He was living a lie. He was gay and he hid it from everyone he loved. He developed so much anxiety and depression that he turned to alcohol.
Thankfully, he sought counseling, came out and stopped drinking.
He’s in his late 40’s now. His values haven’t changed much, but the quality of his life has. He’s so happy!
It’s important to be conscious of your values and live by them. Doing so minimizes anxiety and internal dissonance, and increases overall life satisfaction, happiness and inner peace.
When you figure out what matters to you and what doesn’t, you can prioritize, filter and even create boundaries where necessary. Values are a personal compass that can simplify and enrich your life.
Because they change, it’s also important to check in with your values here and there to ensure you’re aligned.
In essence, values are the foundation of leading a rewarding, authentic life.
10 steps to happiness and inner peace through values.
I did a number of values-based exercises with a coach when I was younger and it changed my life. It helped me make decisions efficiently and unapologetically. It freed me of self-doubt, underlying anxiety and peer pressure. As a result, I had greater sense of security and self-confidence.
Actually, it freed me – period. I suggest having a coach or counselor guide you through the process, but if you can’t, some of the following suggestions will help.
Step 1 Categorize the areas of your life
Begin by creating columns for each main area of your life. Typically these are work, community, health, spirituality, family and you, the individual.
Under each column list the values that matter within it.
Here’s a list of values to help you brainstorm. https://thehappinessplanner.com/pages/list-of-core-values
Identify the values that resonate with you. Chances are there will be quite a few.
Step 2 Prioritize
Once you’ve completed the lists in each area, prioritize them.
Step 3 Choose the top five
Once you’ve completed the lists and prioritized them, highlight the top 5. The other values matter, but not as much as those.
Later, when you’ve begun to truly lead each area of your life according to these top five values, you can add up to three more.
Step 4 Monitor yourself
Now that you’ve identified your values, it’s time to develop an awareness of when those values show up, and when you suppress them, when it comes to the people and situations your get exposed to in the main categories of your life.
For the next 14 days, monitor and keep a daily journal to record your behavior, as well as the accompanying feelings from satisfaction to anxiety to everything in between.
- That felt good
- That felt bad
- This makes me anxious
- This makes me feel useful
Observe others too. Look for the values they demonstrate. Be inspired by the people who live by values you admire and pay attention to those who don’t.
- I admire that person for these reasons
- I don’t respect that person for these reasons
If you can’t carry a journal around all day, leave voice memos on your cell phone until you have a chance to write.
Don’t rely solely on voice memos. Writing in a journal gives you time to reflect. It solidifies insights. It also allows you to spot patterns and progress.
Don’t rush this part. Give a full description of context, as well as a rich description of the emotions.
Step 5 Notice your values in action
Look through your journal and identify when you behaved and made decisions according to your values.
In the next weeks and months be aware of this times because they’ll reward you and motivate you to continue living in a way that’s true to yourself.
Step 6 Notice the challenges
Also identify the times when you didn’t live according to your values. Look for a pattern – did this happen with a particular person or in certain types of situations?
What feelings came up – were you afraid of losing a job or a friend? Were you afraid of being criticized?
Identify the negative feelings (like fear) and the reasons for them (like fear of rejection).
Put a numeric to those feelings. For instance on a scale from 1-10 how great was the fear and on a scale from 1-10 how likely would you have been rejected?
This serves two purposes:
- You can determine how rational or irrational your fear was
2. You can identify the ones on the lower end of the scale so that you can challenge them and overcome them first.
Step 7 Be better prepared for the challenges
Once you recognize the people and situations that elicit a lower level of fear (or any negative emotion that you identified), then set a goal to challenge your fear.
Be prepared by imagining ways in which you can accomplish this.
Step 8 Record your wins
Every time you face a fear and behave in a way that’s true to yourself despite that fear, keep a record of it in your journal.
Again, write a rich description of the context and the emotions.
Step 9 Set progress in motion
Keep monitoring your progress. Keep setting goals. And, keep facing challenges from lowest to highest.
Notice when you’re having self-doubt or dissonance. Whenever you do, take a moment to reflect on your values and let them guide you.
Is this aligned with my values in this area of my life?
What can I say or do to become aligned?
This kind of monitoring and reflection will become more natural over time. It’ll become simpler, as will your life.
Step 10 Be proactive
Working on areas as they come up is important. Equally important is being proactive.
Look at the top value in each area of your life. On a weekly basis, set a defined, actionable goal to live according to each of those values at least once in that week.
Here are some examples:
If you wrote “environmentalism” as a value under the category of community, then set a goal that week to spend 30 minutes picking up bottles in your neighborhood and recycling them.
If under family you wrote “patience” then set a goal that week be patient when your child takes a long time to clean his room (defining the situation is important in making the goal actionable.
If under health you listed “fitness” as a value then set a goal to exercise at least once that week.
Choose actions that are attainable and make you feel accomplished.
Though this isn’t part of identifying your values, it is foundational to happiness. Oprah’s spoken about gratitude journals, as has Arianna Huffington among others.
While I’m a big fan of journals, you can also just take a few moments of your day to stop and think of what you’re grateful for.
If you’re having a bad day, listen to the birds chirp and be grateful. All it takes is observing a moment.
I used to look after my elderly mom. I did this for eight years. Every morning I’d serve her oatmeal and every morning she’d thank me when I put it in front of her.
That’s 2,920 times over eight years. She didn’t miss it once. I used to be amazed at the number of times she said thank you for the simplest gestures. It was politeness, but only in part. She truly was someone who acknowledged others.
I’ve tried to do that myself. I don’t always succeed. But I do always try. It makes a difference to your perspective, your mood and to your relationships.
Be grateful. Whatever happens birds chirp. Flowers are pretty. Skies are beautiful. There’s music in the world.
A final note
Identifying your values and living according to them is more effective with professional help to guide you.
However, doing it on your own is still doing it.
It may be a lot of work upfront, but the benefits will last a lifetime. Living a life according to your values will bring you greater confidence, more simplicity and more happiness. It’ll allow you to go through life on your terms.
I wrote a series of three articles on authenticity, which complement this one. Here they are in order: