How your values determine meaning and happiness in your life

What do you pay attention to? Literally everything in our lives tells us what our values are. Ergo, if you want to make changes in your life and be happier or have more meaning, change your values.

Before we dive into what and how this is possible. Let’s take a look at what value means to us. It is something we strive for, perhaps even aspirational, or it can be a foundation for choosing something, all in all an unconscious filtering system that we base ourselves upon and choose what matches it. I value honesty; therefore, I choose people that are honest in my life and/or I choose to be honest with others. Knowledge is valuable, so I surround myself with books, enrol in studying further and perhaps spending time on the internet reading things I have an interest in.

Much of our daily choices, habits, people, books, hobbies, career, choice of spouse, type of body, and so much more is all determined by values. Yes, it all comes down to that. People come together because they value similar things. People get married or fall in love due to similar values even if background and culture may be vastly different. We are unwilling to change our values for others. Often times we aren’t aware of what our values are and we are not willing to give these up. Unless these values aren’t serving us well anymore.

Values also adds meaning to our life. Based on our set of values, we seek experiences and people. When these values are nurtured and fulfilled, we find meaning and depth. And that entire process makes us happy.

Determining values is fairly easy. Although the list of values is exhaustive, I’d say easily over 400-500 of them exist and going through each one is going to make you go, “oh I yeah I have this one too”. And while you may even have all 500 of them, on a daily basis you are catering to perhaps just the top 5 at most. So, let’s make it easy. Let’s get you to have a sense of these top 5 values and understand if you would like to continue having these as your top 5 in order to find meaning and happiness in your life. Or would you like to change these?

So how do you get to know what your values are? Get a notebook and pen and start writing.

  1. Take a look at the home and work space you live in. What are the top 10 things you surround yourself with? E.g.: For me its books, study material, art and writing material, technology, meditation things (cushion, Jaap mala, etc), and so on.
  2. What topics of books do you primarily read about? If not books, then what topics do you read up on the internet the most? What topic videos do you watch the most? What topics of conversation do you have the most?
  3. What do you dream of doing the most in your life? This may have something to do with what you are currently doing or completely unrelated. Does not matter. Write it down anyway. (does not include to do lists, tasks to get done, etc).
  4. What do you fantasize the most? Please note, it is not who you fantasize about the most, it is what. Just clarifying 🙂
  5. Amongst your nearest 5 friends, list out the qualities that you admire and love most about them. Mark out the common ones.
  6. Focus on the one you have the most special relationship with. A lover or spouse or partner. What are the 5 things you most admire about them?

With all this written down, find out what values are the most common across all these areas. In my case for example, freedom, truth/honesty, creativity, soul/spirituality were some of the most common ones across, books, people, friends, fantasy, dreaming, etc. So, you may even arrive at your top ten. Once you do, filter these over the next two days and be self-aware of what you are actively seeking to experience in your daily life out of these top 5 or top 10 values. The interesting part is that these juggle amongst themselves for the higher spots. On some days honesty is right up at number one, on other days it slides down a bit. And musical chairs amongst the values is totally fine as long you are now acquainted what and who they are. Now you know you better.

Values set up culture

When we look at values at an individual level, it is so much easier in understanding what these are. When we make it a larger group such as a town, village, community, religion, caste, company, social group, etc, these largely shared common values in these groups of people that become the culture. So, if you are working in a company, and are happy there, it’s not just the work you do. It’s the shared values with the company’s other people or it’s culture that brings meaning and happiness for you. A person brought up with values of freedom of expression will never be happy working or living in a group of people where the core values are around suppression of one’s voice. If you are born in a family with certain values and you leave them to move to another country. Your set of values will change. And you no longer find happiness and meaning in the values your family has. Many divorced women find it difficult to adjust to their parental home post their spousal separation, as the set of values have changed over the years. Your culture is a direct result of what is most important to you. Certain companies like google and other millennial generation ones value space, freedom, creativity and innovation. Those are the most common values of the millennial generation of people and hence it is a perfect fit.

Conflicting values
Value conflict with self.

Yes you can have these. If your topmost value is freedom and maybe value number 4 is commitment, these can go head to head with each other under certain circumstances. Whenever you are in any conflict within yourself, find out what are the sets of values that are at war with each other. Choose which value you would like to give more weightage to in that circumstance and you will find more peace.

Value conflict with a loved one

This can be equally disheartening. Shahana fell in love with Amit. He wanted to get married and have kids. But for Shahana, amongst her topmost values was exploration. She knew that if she got married to Amit, for whom exploration was not a value at all, they would have clashes. She is a serial entrepreneur and adventurer. Having kids and being domesticated was not her thing.  All other values were similar, except this one. This is value conflict with a loved one.

Value conflict with a culture.

It can be conflicting or opposing value to a workplace or a family that you perhaps marry into or an industry you work for.

All these conflicting values can either be transformed into a learning process of letting go and letting be or a lesson in cooperation and compromise. Here it comes down to choosing perhaps a new value that adjusts what is happening. In Shahana’s case, she chose to have love as her new value. That eased out her conflict. Amit choose space as his new value. Letting Shahana go off on her adventures if she wanted and he promised to take care of the kids when they chose to have them.

Values determine meaning

Values are your markers for meaning and purpose or the raison d’être. Based on your top 5 or 10 values, your meaning of life, satisfaction, fulfilment and thereby happiness is determined. People come together when values match, go into conflict when some don’t, get at loggerheads when almost the entire list differs, but no one is right and no one is wrong. When you focus on the values of self and the other, you become more compassionate and understanding as you get a deeper sense of where the other is coming from. When the person becomes the most valuable, you will find that you are willing to change your value to accommodate them. Or they would the same for you. Then you are jointly sharing the values of love, deep bonds, connection or equality.

If we weren’t invested in our values, we’d stand for nothing and fall for everything. To get a stronger and empowered sense of who you really are, get to know your values. It will support you in determining what works and what doesn’t rather quickly. You get more efficient, time and energy saving and even achieve your goals sooner. Anything that does not match your values can be put aside. And if something comes along that challenges that list of values, you can relook at that list and make changes if you desire to accommodate the new thing.

“Tell me what you pay attention to and I will tell you who you are.”

― José Ortega y Gasset


Aditi Nirvaan

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