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  • Dr. Kaitlin Harkess

An Introduction to Living your Values


Value directed living may sound like the latest budgeting trend that will transform your bank account but it instead refers to an approach to life that is driven by core values. That is, the decisions you make in life, big and small, are determined by your core values and adhering to these as closely as possible. Sounds simple, right? Well the concept is easy to understand, but carrying it out in practice is another thing altogether.

Sometimes, we fall in to a trap of aiming for milestones in different facets of our lives; the next promotion in our workplace, that bigger house in a nicer neighbourhood, going on the next international holiday, dating an attractive intelligent person or even perfecting the next yoga pose. When we achieve these goals, we have a surge in positive emotions; however, these are only relatively short-term. As the positivity fades and we become accustomed to our new and improved standard with the milestone achieved, the yearning for the bigger and better comes back strongly. This is not a flaw; it is only human nature. Our evolutionary biology has us programmed to strive for greater things in order to preserve and improve our species and individual well-being. In the modern world, this need is somewhat obsolete (assuming your basic human needs are being met) and it has become the source of much distress with many people even unaware of these thought patterns and their influence.

On the other side of the coin, we have a value-directed approach to life. In this case, we derive our positive emotions from making decisions in alignment with the important values of our life. It creates a greater sense of control for the individual as these decisions are completely within your grasp. If you miss out on that promotion, it is not the end of the world as you need only focus on the values you have chosen to live your life by. In theory, this breaks the cycle of chasing bigger and bigger “milestones”, which are often arbitrary in nature and don’t necessarily influence your long-term happiness. It is also a simpler approach to life; when a decision needs to be made, you can just ask the question, “does this align with the values I hold important?”

Examples of values that people might hold are:

  • Being a loving parent

  • Caring and being respectful of the environment and its living creatures

  • Being fit and healthy

  • Looking after yourself emotionally

  • Being a caring friend

Adapting to living a value-directed life is not a simple switch. We are surrounded by stimuli telling us that our life is inadequate in one arena or another. The most obvious is the unstoppable force of modern marketing. It is impossible to escape unless you retreat into the wilderness for your remaining years; maybe an appealing daydream but hardly a practical direction. Internal familial pressures or social circles can also drive the perceived need for the latest gadget or car, which in turn drives the desire for another promotion. The feedback loop is endless if we let these fickle milestones govern our lives.

Let’s now go through the exercise of empowering yourself by identifying the values that are important to you. How do you want to be remembered or even perceived by your peers today? What direction do you want your life to take? Who do you admire and what values of theirs draw you in? Make a list, and the next time you have an important decision (or even an unimportant one), try to apply your values to the situation and adhere to as many as you can!


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© 2017 by Kaitlin Harkess, Ph.D.