The Value of Values
Values are an important part of who we are. They can ground us when making decisions, help us prioritize, and connect us to those around us. Despite their importance, we often do not spend much time thinking about what our values are, or how they are helpful in our everyday life.
What exactly are values? As a basic definition, they are the characteristics or principles that we find desirable or important. Values can be passed down through families, cultures, experiences, and can evolve and change as we do.
Here are just a few ways that being in touch with our values can help us:
- Direction – A compass has markers for each of the cardinal directions (North, South, East, and West) to let us know which way we need to travel to reach our destination. Values are like a compass. In knowing what we value, it can guide us to make choices that are most aligned with what is important to us and where we want to go in life. For example, we may choose a job that has good pay if we place more importance on financial stability, or we may choose a job that offers more vacation time if we value work-life balance more.
- Protection – Values can let us know what is precious to us and inform our boundaries to protect these things. If our boundaries are challenged, understanding what we are protecting and why we set these boundaries can help us be assertive. As an example, if family time is something we prioritize, knowing this value can empower us to limit the number of overtime hours we work.
- Understanding – Sometimes we may notice we react in unexpected ways when plans change last minute, or we may feel defensive when talking with family about a sensitive topic. In these situations, we can feel confused as to why we are feeling this way. Knowing our values can help us understand where this feeling might be coming from. If spending quality time with others is important to us, we may understandably feel disappointed if our plans get cancelled. Understanding this value can help us to be kinder to ourselves, as we can better appreciate why we feel this way.
- Connection – Our values can also be a point of connection to others. We often feel ‘seen’ by those who share our values. By knowing our values as well as theirs, we can deepen our relationships. Not only that, in understanding our values we can feel more connected to ourselves as well. Continuing traditions that have been passed down through our family or starting our own traditions is one way we can practice our values and feel genuine.
What do you value? Writing down a list of important qualities, reflecting on where our values come from, or talking to a counsellor about our experiences can help us understand ourselves in new ways, as well as navigate life’s challenges authentic to who we are and what is important to us.
Lisa Gust, MSc, is a Registered Psychologist with the College of Alberta Psychologists and specializes in the areas of stress management and life transitions, as well as many others. For more information on Lisa and her work click here to link to her full bio page.