How can I live a more meaningful life? By living a life that matters and connects with my values!
One of the things that most of us have been talking about during this COVID pandemic is what is important to us. It comes up in all different kinds of ways. When we talk about work, we think about how the changes have affected our working lives. For some people the move to working from home has been positive and has created opportunities for them to lead more fulfilling lives. For others it has been a real loss. When we talk about how our ability to connect with others and the world has changed and how this has impacted us, we are reflecting on what really matters in our relationships and in our life. So much of our everyday conversation during the pandemic has focused our thoughts on what really matters to us.
As therapists, we often discuss with clients what matters to them and what their values are. We think of values as our ‘hearts deepest desires’, how we want to behave now and in the future. Our values reflect how we want to treat ourselves, others and the world around us. We all have values, but we don’t all share the same values. They are one of the things that make us uniquely human. Some examples of values might include love, humour, patience, courage, kindness and creativity. In fact there are probably hundreds of different values, more of which are shown in the '20 minute exercise' below. It is helpful to consciously think about what our chosen values are and how these can influence what we do in our everyday life. But why is it important to do this?? Because when we live a life that is in line with our values we are then more likely to experience it as rich and full and meaningful. Even when the really tricky stuff happens – like a global pandemic!
The pandemic has created so much challenge, stress and distress for so many. One of the things the pandemic has perhaps brought us all, in our conversations and experiences, is more thought about what is truly important to us and about our values. The conversations we have both in therapy sessions and with our family and friends, is the realisation that we now understand more of what really matters.
As we come out of lockdown and go through this next phase of the pandemic it is useful to think about those conversations and think about what our values are and how we can translate these into our everyday lives. Thinking about our values and what matters most might feel a bit strange as it’s not really something we tend to really think about!
Here are a couple of exercises to help you think about yours:
Imagine it’s your 100th birthday and, as part of the celebration, a few people are making speeches about you. You know that they are going to reflect on:
* who you are as a person?
* what you stand for?
* what you mean to them?
Think about (or ideally write down) what would you like to hear them say!
We have many different areas in our lives. Some areas might include:
Career / Employment
Our values in these areas may overlap. There may be some values that are more important in one area, but less important in another. This website link here has a list of 60 values. Choose which area of your life you might want to focus on. You might choose the one which feels most important to you, or the one which feels most out of kilter for you just now. There is no right or wrong’place to start. Click on the link above, and write down which values are ‘very important’, ‘quite important’ and ‘not so important’ in that area.
You can repeat this exercise for any or all the areas you wish to focus on.
These exercises can help us think about which values are most important to us. Rather than just thinking about it though, it can often be more useful when we actually use this information to DO more of what matters. So we can then use those values to guide what we do and to help move us towards the life we actually want to live.
How do we do more of what matters? It’s not always easy. Sometimes we really need to remember and tune into what our values are and how they can motivate us even when we are faced with tricky tasks and situations.
It might be helpful to think about how we can do more of what matters, even in the smallest of ways. The great news is that you can connect with your values any time you want, even starting from now! For example, the pandemic highlighted that ‘care’ and ‘contribution’ are important values for many people. For some people they engaged in small or large scale community projects where they collected shopping and medication for people in their local community. For others they ensured that their immediate family had what they needed when they were unable to get this themselves. Both examples are expressions of value-based action.
It was great to see how people naturally tuned into what was important to them and started connecting and caring for others during lockdown. For example, if we couldn’t actually visit our loved ones what we could do was have a socially distanced chat over the fence with a neighbour, we could have Zoom chats with family and friends and we could meet up virtually with people we might not have had time to meet before! Living our life in a more meaningful way is about deliberately tuning into our values and, importantly, also really appreciating them when we do. One note of caution though, as you think of your values and how they can influence what you do, think of them lightly and as a guide (not as a list of commandments! ).
This blog is a light introduction into ‘doing what matters’ using values as a guide. It is hoped that as we go into this next phase of the pandemic, that this approach can help you focus on living a rich and full and meaningful life, even in the face of adversity.
Thanks for reading and we hope you found it helpful!
Jo, Jan & Catherine
Values based living is a component of a type of evidence based therapy called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. There is an excellent and very accessible book called ‘The Happiness Trap’ by Russ Harris which describes this approach. Please note that the exercises described in this blog have been made freely available for public use and are respectfully borrowed from Russ Harris’s books and training. Please also note that we are not benefiting in any way from plugging his work, it is just within our values to help share it widely and freely!