V is for Values (What you value creates your reality)
Updated: Mar 28
“Values are important because they can guide you and motivate you through situations where your feelings might lead you off course. Acting in accordance with your own deepest values is inherently satisfying and fulfilling – even though it often forces you to face your fears.” Russ Harris (The Happiness Trap)
As we start the New Year, it is useful to reflect on what our values are.
“When you go through life guided by your values, not only do you gain a sense of vitality and joyfulness, but you also experience that life can be rich, full, and meaningful, even when bad things happen”. Russ Harris
Values make life worth living; they help us overcome challenges when life is difficult. I have recently finished reading Viktor Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning” and in it the author describes how the ones who survived the concentration camps were not the fittest, but those most connected to life.
The recurring refrain of the book is based on Nietzsche’s words:
“He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.”
Viktor Frankl speaks about his own ‘whys’ and how they helped him endure his situation – Love, Work and Dignity in suffering
One example was that Viktor Frankl learned that he was able to use love as an antidote to pain by holding his wife’s image in his mind for company, despite not knowing where his wife was or whether she was even alive.
“I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love. I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world still may know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved. In a position of utter desolation, when man cannot express himself in positive action, when his only achievement may consist in enduring his sufferings in the right way – an honourable way – in such a position man can, through loving contemplation of the image he carries of his beloved, achieve fulfilment.” VF
In the book, Frankl argues that we are not bound to our environments and we always have a choice despite our circumstances. Our environment can be a determiner of our actions but it is not fate; there are always opportunities within our limitations.
“The experiences of camp life show that man does have a choice of action. There were enough examples, often of a heroic nature, which proved that apathy could be overcome, irritability suppressed. Man can preserve a vestige of spiritual freedom, of independence of mind, even in such terrible conditions of psychic and physical stress.” VF
Basically, you may not always have a choice in your circumstances and environment but you do always have a choice in how you react to those things imposed upon you.
“We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s way”. VF
Frankl spoke in contrast about the many prisoners who had completely lost their ‘why’ and in so doing quickly lost their life as a result. He argues that it doesn’t matter if we no longer expect anything from life, we can still find meaning by changing our mindset from what we can get out of life to what we can do for life, i.e. what we can you do for others and by staying true to our values:
“What was really needed was a fundamental change in our attitude toward life. We had to learn ourselves and, furthermore, we had to teach the despairing men, that it did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us. We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life – daily and hourly. Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfil the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual.” VF
I think that in today’s Covid-19 world we can draw some important lessons from this book. With ‘lockdowns’, lack of physical contact with family and friends, endless hours thrown back on to our own resources, it is essential to remember our values, have hope and change our mindset from looking inward to looking outward and seeing what encouragement we can give others and developing ‘an attitude of gratitude’ rather than dwelling on our own ‘misfortune or limitations’.
There is a close connection between one’s state of mind, courage and hope (or the lack of them) and the state of immunity of one’s body. When we lose hope and courage, it can have a serious effect on both our physical and our mental health; it is essential therefore that we guard hope and a belief in the future by reflecting on our values and making goals.
For me, values and goals are different. Goals give our life a sense of direction; they put a powerful force into play on a universal, conscious, and subconscious level but values guide us as to what those goals should be and temper how we should work to achieve them.
“We go through life following the same routine, day after day. But in order to create a rich, full, and meaningful life, we need to stop to reflect on what we’re doing and why we’re doing it.” Russ Harris
Living life by our values and not our feelings or reactions is a good example of how we can find fulfilment in any situation, even one we don’t want. We can use our values and attitude to find satisfaction whilst on the journey towards our goals.
When we know our moral principles and use them to guide us rather than our feelings, it can also aid us to find our purpose more easily, make decision-making easier, increase our confidence and help us be more efficient when working through difficult situations.
Our personal values are subjective and reflect the things that we believe are important to us therefore these should be reflected in the way we live and work and determine our priorities. As the old adage says, “Actions speak louder than words” Eg It is no good saying we care or value something but then don’t back this up with our actions and our behaviour and attitude show the complete opposite. It is also easy to become ‘delusional’ and state values we wish we had to cover up ones we actually have if we are disconnected from self-awareness. To live by our values requires honesty, effort and action.
Our personal values are our moral compass and are essential to guide us to know what to say, how to behave, how to treat ourselves and others, and what life choices to make.
Our values should not based on temporary feelings which can be destructive and uncontrollable but on stable facets of conscious choices and decisions i.e. based on evidence and are constructive and controllable. Values can also be used as measures to tell if our lives are progressing in the way we want.
What are values?
“Simply put, values are energy. They motivate us, so that we want to move toward the people and things we feel share our values – and away from the ones we feel do not. Our values direct how we prioritise things in our lives, how we make decisions and what actions we take in every moment.” Kairos.com
Some values have been instilled into us since early life and may stay with us, others have become important or have consciously been chosen to replace our original notions. There are many different values and each and every person will have their own priorities and different combinations creating their own personal hierarchy and their own definitions because as Robert Zend says
“People have one thing in common; they are all different”
What makes one person be more willing to help others than another? Why are some people’s focus on fame and fortune whilst others are drawn to a life of humility or helping others? The values we hold help shape our attitudes and behaviour until ultimately our true values become meshed into our personality and become part of us. The values we choose will affect our relationships, our choice of livelihood, our health and our general quality of life as our values filter our perception of the world.
There are universal cultural (moral or religious) values and then there are our personal values defined as desirable goals that serve as guiding principles in our lives
There are 3 generally recognised domains when reflecting on values –
Values overlap between different areas of our lives but here are some starters under each area in alphabetical order. What other values can you think of ? Which do you hold as important? How would you organise them in order of priority?
Acceptance, achievement, affection, altruism, assertiveness, authority, Balance, being present, belief, belonging, benevolence, betterment, Calmness, carefreeness, caring, charity, choice, collaboration, commitment, community, competence, competition, concern, conformity, congruency, courage, creativity, curiosity, Decisiveness, dedication, dependability, detachment, development, dialogue, diligent, discipline, diversity, duty, Economic security, efficiency, empathy, empowering others, encouragement, endurance, energy, enjoyment, enlightenment, equality, Fairness, faithfulness, family, financial success, flexibility, food and shelter, freedom – of thought, of expression, of action, Generous, gratitude, growth, Health, hedonism, honesty, hopefulness, human rights, humility, humour, Image, improvement, independence, inner peace, innovation, inspiring others, integrity, interdependence, intimacy, intuition, Joyful, judiciousness, justness, Kindness, knowledge, Learning, legacy, listening, logic, loyalty, Maintenance, managing, mastery, meaningfulness, mind-body integration, mindfulness, Neatness, non-violence, nurturing, Obedience, open-minded, openhearted, optimism, order, Partnership, patience, patriotism, peace, perfection, personal growth, physical functioning, planetary Ecology, power, predictability, prestige, problem solving, productivity, Quality, quiet, Rationality, recognition, reconciliation, recreation, reflection, relaxation, religiosity, resilience, respect, responsibility, rest, risk, Safety, security, self-acceptance, self-assuredness, self-compassion, self-confidence, self-love, self-restraint, self-sacrifice, self-worth, service, simplicity, sincerity, spirituality, stability, stimulation, success, survival, sustainability, Thriving, tradition, transformation, trustworthy, truthful, Understanding, unity, universalism – nature, tolerance, Virtuousness, vitality, Well being, well-read, wisdom, wonder, worthiness, Xenaciousness, xenodochy, Yourself, Zealous
Some more questions to think about/or discuss below:
What do you really want?
What do you want to stand for in life?
What sort of personal qualities do you want to cultivate?
How do you want to be towards others?
If you want to explore this subject further, here are a few links to get you started:
“If you could somehow listen in your own funeral and the people you most care about were there, what sort of things would you love to hear them say about you? What would you like them to think about the role you played in their lives?” Russ Harris
As above; so below: