By identifying our core values, we can begin to design a life that is in better alignment our true self.
After spending the last year researching and writing my new book, Outsmart Your Smartphone: Conscious Tech Habits for Finding Happiness, Balance, and Connection IRL, I’ve learned that we sometimes go through life without paying much attention.
We just move from one thing to the next without considering whether our actions reflect our core values. But when we go through life without following our values, we can lose ourselves and our ability to generate real happiness.
Want to identify your core values and learn how to live them?
Identify Your Core Values
By identifying our values, we can begin to design a life that is in better alignment our true self.
Keep in mind that values are different for everyone—you are the only one who can identify your values.
To get started, think about the list of values below. Write down any of the values that you hold.
Feel free to add additional values if they are not included on the list:
Core Values List:
Authenticity Adventure Balance
Bravery Compassion Challenge
Citizenship Community Creativity
Curiosity Determination Fairness
Freedom Friendships Fun
Generosity Growth Honesty
Influence Justice Kindness
Knowledge Leadership Learning
Love Loyalty Openness
Optimism Recognition Respect
Responsibility Security Self-Respect
Social Connection Spirituality Stability
Status Wealth Wisdom
Next, circle your most important 3 or 5 values. For each of these, write down three or more actions that define what it would mean for you to live 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 your top 3 to 5 values. For example, if you value Optimism, it’s a more value-driven choice to think positively than to worry about the future.
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.
As you are doing this activity, you may discover that there are ways that you could live in closer alignment with your values. It may be hard to follow through on some of the actions you identified.
Maybe you would need to stop drinking. Maybe you would need to change jobs. Maybe you would need to have some difficult conversations. It’s quite easy to go with the flow and lose sight of our 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 from the outside that these 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 revealed when she started asking loved ones for things that she could sell to buy drugs. Never had she been the kind of person that couldn’t handle a challenge.
Never had she been willing to take from others. But when in the throws of her addiction, she lost her track of her values. Thankfully, she did recover. But even after recovering from her addiction, it was only when she again started living her values that she was able to rebuild her life and her happiness.
The tricky thing about values, though, is that we all hold different ones. For each of us who loses track of our values, the outcome will look different. And many of us have never asked ourselves what our values are or what it would look like it we weren’t living them. So we easily get lost.
By identifying what we need to do to live our values, we can start becoming the person that we want to be.
And as it gets easier to love ourselves, we begin to feel happier.
Live Your Values
When I first did this activity, I discovered that kindness is one of my top values. I was living this value in some ways, with some people, and in some situations, but I had some major gaps. For one, I could be really mean to my husband, criticizing him for the smallest things. I could tell you I acted this way because I was angry or hurt, but these are just rationalizations–excuses that I told myself to justify my behavior. The truth is that living your values is hard, and I wasn’t yet ready to put in the work.