Identify your core values and learn how to live by them to build greater happiness.

Sometimes you can go through life without paying much attention. Maybe you move from one thing to the next, playing on your phone, without considering whether your actions match up with what you believe is important – core values. But when you go through life without following your values, you can lose yourself and your ability to generate real happiness.

Want to identify what your core values are and learn how to live them? Keep reading…

Identify Your Values

When you identify your values, you begin to design a life that is in better alignment with your true self. It’s important to remember that values are different for everyone—you are the only one who can identify your values.

Think about the list of values below. Write down any of the values that feel right for you. Add any other values you find that aren’t on the list too.

Values List:

Authenticity Adventure Balance Bravery Compassion
Challenge Citizenship Community Creativity Curiosity
Determination Fairness Freedom Friendships Fun
Generosity Growth Grit Honesty Integrity
Justice Kindness Knowledge Leadership Learning
Love Loyalty Openness Optimism Recognition
Responsibility Security Self-respect Connection Spirituality
Stability Status Wealth Wisdom Wellness
Short List of Values

Next, note your most important three to five values. For each of these, write down three or more actions that define what it means for you to live by these values. For example, if you value loyalty, actions might include forgiving a friend for a betrayal, negotiating fair treatment at work to ensure your commitment to your employer, or choosing not to engage in extramarital affairs.

Now, write down one thing you have done that does not reflect each of your top three to five values. For example, if you value fun, it’s a more action-oriented choice to take the time and effort to look for fun activities to pursue.

Next, write down what you could do differently next time. Maybe instead of bracing for the worst, you could think about what might go right, what you might learn, or what cool things you have to look forward to in the future. When you engage in this activity, you may learn that you can live in closer alignment with your personal values.

It might be hard to follow through. Maybe you need to –

It’s quite easy to go with the flow, keep the peace and lose sight of your values. It’s a lot harder to live by our values and do what’s right for ourselves in the long run.

What if you haven’t been living your values?

For one woman I know—a kind, smart, caring person—the rift between her values and her actions became apparent when she started leaving her boyfriend at home so she could gain attention and physical satisfaction from other men. It was clear that her actions went against her values. So even though her actions made her feel good in the moment, each night she would go home feeling terrible.

For another woman I know—a strong, giving, selfless person—the growing gap between her values and actions was happened when she started staying in her basement office working until late to avoid her responsibilities at home. Never had she been the kind of person that couldn’t handle a challenge. Never had she been willing ignore her kids. But in the middle of the pandemic, she was overwhelmed by constant needs at home and work all happening at the same time. She lost her track of ability to give and receive love – one of her highest values. It was only when she reminded herself that her family was the most important thing that she reached out for help and started living her values that she rebuilt her relationships and happiness.

The good news and bad news are that we all hold different ones. The outcome will look different for each of use loses track of our values. Many of us never think to ask ourselves what our values are or what would happen if we weren’t living them, the result is feeling lost and not knowing what to do.

By identifying what you need to do to live your values, you can become the person that you want to be. And as it gets easier to love yourselves, you start to feel happier.

Live Your Values

When I did a values exercise in early in my career discovered that kindness is one of my top values. I was living this value in many ways, but I had some major gaps. For one, I could be really critical of my supervisees, criticizing them for the smallest things without a kind word at all. I could tell you I acted this way because I have high expectations, but while that’s true it was a rationalization–excuse I told myself to justify my behavior. The truth is that living your values is hard, and I wasn’t yet ready and as a young professional didn’t know how and felt ashamed to ask for help.

I could tell myself I was being kind when I was really being stern-even blunt. But one day I realized I was just making excuses, and I didn’t recognize myself anymore. I was not who I wanted to be and behaving that was wasn’t comfortable. It seemed scary to be present in the moment when I wasn’t sure how to say what needed to be said. But I decided that I had to do it and no matter how much I fumbled, I had to live me values and be more kind and accepting.

For each of your core values, in the last exercise ask yourself these three questions:

  1. Are there any people with whom you have a difficult time living this value? Maybe your romantic partner, parent, sibling, coworker, or friend?
  2. Are there any situations that make it difficult for you to practice this value? Where are you and what are you doing when you don’t practice these values? For example, maybe you’re at work, at home, out at a bar, on social media, in the car, or at the daycare center.
  3. Is there anything else that makes it difficult for you to live your personal values? For example, maybe you live your values at the start of the day but by nighttime they are a distant memory.

Once you’ve identified what triggers you to veer away from your core values, it’s important to identify what about these experiences affects you in this way.

Ask yourself what thoughts, feelings, or bodily sensations lead you to behave differently than you would like to. Also ask are there any people or situations that lead you away from your values.

The emotions that trigger you may be the same across all situations, or they may be different. Write down anything that think might lead you away from your values. These emotions, thoughts, and associated bodily sensations are the foundation of what causes you to abandon our values. When we act in a way that’s inconsistent with our values, we are attempting to regulate or reduce our negative emotions, even if only temporarily. By acknowledging this and changing your habits, you can start to live in accordance with your values and improve your lives. Changing your life is never easy, but it’s always worth it.

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