What do you base your decisions on? Underlying every choice we make is a vast system of values. These are the principles upon which we base our behavior and determine what is important to us. They are things like Equality, Gratitude, Loyalty, Generosity, Honesty, and Diligence. It is helpful to discover and gain clarity around your values because they can elucidate courses of action towards living meaningfully. Knowing the constitution of the foundations you’re building your life upon will inform your choice of building materials and techniques. That said, what equality or generosity look like to a given individual, and how they are supported, may look very different!
Living in accordance with your values is to live in integrity with yourself- and by that I mean making decisions that reflect what you find important in life. When we act out of integrity with them (making choices that are different from our principles) we tend to experience shame, regret, or guilt. Each of us has a laundry list of values, but there are some that are more important to us than others and will carry more clout in our choices. Crazy enough, they also change throughout our lives!
Values are different from your stances on particular issues, although your position in these conflicts can reveal your values. If you are to examine abortion, for example, pro-life and pro-choice arguments value justice and respect for human rights (even though they are approaching it from different angles). Likewise one could see that supporters of conservation value the safety of humanity (amongst other life forms) in the long-term through specific courses of actions, while others may view conservation practices as detrimental to long-term sustainability and expression of humanity. In these examples, similar values lead to different positions.
As far as discovering what they are at the present moment, you can pick out your values by examining moments and important decisions in your life and why you felt the way you did about them. Reflecting on these moments and pulling out the common themes will help you identify these values. Try out the questions below, and the University of Pennsylvania survey linked as well.
What personal attributes are you proud of? Why are these important to have?
What achievements in your life are you most proud of? What mattered most about these moments?
What personal attributes are you ashamed of? Why are these negative to you?
What failures in your life were particularly hard for you? What scenario would have felt successful and why?
Please check out this survey by Penn State to get an individual assessment of your top values: https://www.authentichappiness.sas.upenn.edu/questionnaires/survey-character-strengths
List of Common Values
- Fairness, equity, and justice
- Judgment, critical thinking, and open-mindedness
- Capacity to love and be loved
- Citizenship, teamwork, and loyalty
- Perspective wisdom
- Forgiveness and mercy
- Kindness and generosity
- Appreciation of beauty and excellence
- Social intelligence
- Curiosity and interest in the world
- Honesty, authenticity, and genuineness
- Hope, optimism, and future-mindedness
- Love of learning
- Zest, enthusiasm, and energy
- Creativity, ingenuity, and originality
- Humor and playfulness
- Self-control and self-regulation
- Industry, diligence, and perseverance
- Bravery and valor
- Caution, prudence, and discretion
- Modesty and humility
- Spirituality, sense of purpose, and faith