Over the past several months, I have been asking myself the following questions,
“How can I show the people that I love that they matter to me?”
“What’s important to me?”
“What do I want to pursue in life?”
“What do I want to stand for in the midst of pain and heartache?”
“How can I make my life worth living, even while enduring suffering?”
The answer comes in the form of my values. In his book, The Happiness Trap, Dr. Russ Harris explains that “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” (p. 167).
How I answer the above posed questions will indicate to me what my values are, which according to Harris, are “our heart’s deepest desires: how we want to be, what we want to stand for, and how we want to relate to the world around us. [Furthermore, values are] leading principles that can guide us and motivate us as we move through life” (p. 167-168).
In other words, values are ongoing qualities of action that I can bring to my work life, my relationships, my health, and any other domain of life. Values will help me become the type of person I want to be and will also assist me in staying motivated to reach my goals.
So, what does matter to me? How do I want to live my life? What goals do I want to achieve and are said goals in line with my values?
These are deep and hard questions to answer, and to answer them, it requires inner reflection.
Inner reflection takes effort and honesty because it necessitates that I explore my values and then gauge how well I am doing living out those values.
For example, my values around health include fitness, self-care, self-compassion, and persistence. I will be honest and say that I have not been very good about sticking to fitness and persistence (I’ve been persistent about not being fit though 😉). Now, I could easily move into judging and criticizing myself about the fact that I have not exercised consistently. This would bring up painful feelings like sadness, anger, shame, and anxiety. But, if I judge and criticize myself, would I be living out my values of self-compassion or self-care? Definitely not, and this realization could, of course, lead to further self-criticism for not being compassionate!
What do I do when I realize that I am not necessarily living the values I hold for myself in a given life domain?
First, I can offer myself compassion when I notice I have fallen off the pathway that will lead toward a rich, full, and meaningful life.
Second, I can acknowledge that falling of the path is inevitable, and it is also completely normal (because I am human!).
Third, I can make room for thoughts like, “It’s too hard! Why bother trying?”, or feelings like frustration, hopelessness, and anxiety.
Fourth, I can respond to those thoughts and feelings by employing my values, which will be guiding beacons to provide light along my journey back to the pathway and will illuminate the path itself.
The values can help motivate me to return to the path.
If you feel disconnected from your values or want assistance pursuing your life’s goals, at The Refuge Center, we will work to help you identify what you value most and how you can take steps to live a meaningful life.
Harris, R. (2008). The happiness trap. Boulder, CO: Shambhala Publications, Inc.