Life is beautiful, and crazy, and very often overwhelming. Everything is transient, yet it’s human nature to cling to the status quo, as an anchor to familiarity. This constant push-pull is exhausting, but one thing that remains constant is our chosen values for living by, often identifiable as qualities of a person we admire. and if we live them authentically they serve as a rudder, steering us to make wise choices. But when there’s a mismatch between our intrinsic principles and our lived values, it can lead to chaotic experiences.
The Power of Having Values to Live By
In order to be at peace within ourselves, we must live in harmony with our deeply held beliefs.
It’s our core values which allow us to question a deeply ingrained cultural or social ‘rule’, and come to realise that it’s wrong; to have the strength of character to look within ourselves and accept that just because it has always been, does not mean it is right or appropriate.
It’s this internal moral compass – our values – which can effect profound change in our personal outlook – one which better aligns with our personal values, creating a fulfilling life.
As well as being central to how we interact with others, our core values are a guiding light throughout our life, setting the bar for standards of behaviour both from others and for ourselves; staying true to those principles – and thus ourselves – is paramount to our wellbeing.
If we compromise the values we hold dear, we compromise our inner peace.
But how can you confidently live in alignment with your core values?
This article will help you to:
- Determine and define your own personal values;
- Identify any areas in your life that are in conflict with your core values: your lived values should match your defined personal values;
- Finally, to realign your life with your values.
What Are Core Values?
Core or personal values are the fundamental principles or philosophical beliefs by which we live our lives.
While they look different for each of us, we all have values – even the most heinous criminals often place enormous value on loyalty, if little else. Our principles inform the ways we conduct ourselves and treat others, the things we choose to prioritise each day, and the ideals we aspire to. They form the most significant ‘rules’ upon which we each rely to navigate our path through life.
We all have slightly different values, and we tend to get along with those whose values align with our own. Conversely, differing values often creates an incompatibility, and can even cause a rift between friends when they become apparent.
The values we choose to live by are – or should be – sacrosanct and non-negotiable; unbreakable, and unshakeable.
Why Are Values Important For Living a Fulfilled Life?
Living according to our core values is to live in a way we personally deem to be ethical. And living ethically is what provides us with our deepest sense of self-acceptance, self-esteem, and self-worth.
In terms of how this influences us in a broader sense and applies to how meaningful we perceive our lives to be, the following quote springs to mind:
If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.Dalai Lama
Behaving in a way that compromises our values, or which we consider to be immoral will, over time, also compromise the way we see ourselves – which in turn negatively impacts our happiness. The good news is we can check in with ourselves to ensure we’re living in alignment with our core beliefs and principles.
How Core Values Effect Positive Change Within Society
It’s a fact of life that we’re all brought up indoctrinated to conform to the social constructs of the cultures we’re born into. However it’s also true that our cultures often preserve outdated, intolerant, or otherwise harmful customs.
For example, in many western countries natural term breastfeeding (often referred to as extended breastfeeding) is frowned upon and sexualised. It puts immense pressure on mothers to wean their babies at a younger age than is biologically natural or beneficial.
This idea is just that – it is not a fact – yet it has come to be a widely held attitude, to the detriment of the mother and child. Likewise the idea that you can spoil a baby with too many cuddles, the notion that men should be strong and hide their feelings, or that women are neurotic.
These are all cultural beliefs which should be challenged, and the good news is that as a society we are beginning to acknowledge the mismatch between our personally held values and antiquated cultural ‘rules’.
When people clash over personal values (for some people loyalty to tradition is more important than ethics), it can be nigh on impossible to find a compromise. This is because by definition, neither party is able to back down. But while it can inevitably be the cause of friction and conflict, a difference in values can also be a force for good. When approached constructively, respectful discussions can lead to positive outcomes.
Differing values are typically what lead to these types of conversations taking place and thankfully, we’re seeing improvements in some areas (such as atypical relationships – though we still have a long way to go, as is apparent when it comes to racism and gender identity).
Core Values For Living a Meaningful Life = Admirable Qualities of a Person
The following list comprises key values which are of great significance to most people. We’re all on a spectrum in terms of how we rank them, but they will most likely feature prominently when we consider what is fundamentally important to us, both in terms of how we conduct ourselves and how we’re treated by others.
While it’s difficult to rank values when each of them means something to most people, kindness has to be one of the most basic and fundamental ideals; it’s like an umbrella under which most others on this list could fit:
Kindness to others, to yourself, and to the planet covers the vast majority of other principles below.
Respect is often spoken of in terms of being earned. The reality for most people is that it’s gladly given by default, until such time as it’s demanded or exploited – at which point it is likely renounced.
Respect holds great value specifically because of its nature – it has to be given willingly, and usually it’s our conduct which dictates whether or not we and others are deserving of it.
Showing tolerance is the mark of a liberal, unprejudiced, non-judgemental person. The world could use a few more of these special kinds of people.
On the surface, forgiveness appears to be about the absolution of others, however this is a damaging and tragic misconception; while that can be an element, it’s actually more about making peace with your sadnesses.
Letting go of grudges and learning to forgive is undoubtedly a challenge and, sadly, one that is often lifelong work. But doing so is one of the most freeing and positive human experiences there is.
And by the way, the most difficult of all people to forgive is usually yourself; working on this will also be the most rewarding investment you can make in terms of your happiness.
A beautiful quality to possess, it takes a huge degree of altruism. In this busy world and our hectic lives few of us take the time to be patient with those around us, yet it’s an admirable trait which is so greatly appreciated when it’s shown to us.
Life is so chaotic that it can be tricky to remain zen all the time, but carving out time for quiet and reflection is good for your health – and for your relationships too… Other people’s energy rubs off on us and, while being around loud and agitated people can be draining, we’re drawn to serenity and composure.
The great thing about calmness is that it can be a simple choice – not easy, but simple.
You may need to practice this one, but if you buy into the positive power of calmness and adopt it as a core value, you can remain calm even in the face of stressful situations.
None of us are perfect; there will always be room for improvement, whether it’s in terms of how we treat others or ourselves, or – more likely – both.
Acknowledging this is the first step towards making positive change to be a better person.
We all like to have our kindnesses, talents, or hard work recognised. It’s not difficult to do, yet many people feel overlooked or under-appreciated, every day, in all settings. It simply takes for us to remain alert to what is happening around us and take the time first to notice, and then to express our acknowledgement.
And it can have a profoundly positive effect on our colleagues and loved ones.
If you’re not growing, you’re dying.Tony Robbins
What else is there, if you’re not growing, learning, and improving? Which feeds into…
Purpose is vital to the human condition; in fact it’s the single most important thing we need in order to avoid – and indeed to combat – depression.
Whichever form it takes, purpose is what drives us forward and gives meaning to life.
Integrity is simply the act of living in accordance with our values. It’s what makes us trust others and believe in their morality, because actions speak louder than words.
It’s also what forms our own sense of ‘goodness’; equally, failing to act with integrity to our core values can cause us to feel unfulfilled and our self-esteem to suffer.
Positivity is not about thinking every situation is fabulous, but believing that better days are coming; it’s about choosing to find the silver lining and focus on the good in your life instead of the bad.
The wonderful thing about positivity is that it’s something we can all practice and become more adept at, if we choose to.
Feeling free to live with independence and liberty should be a given, but it’s often compromised by work or family responsibilities. This won’t be problematic for everyone, but to some it can be confining, and over time those feelings of restriction can lead to resentment.
Security is an enormous privilege that we all deserve, but too few are fortunate enough to have. It’s one of those things that you take for granted when you have it, but its absence is painfully apparent.
In every sense, security is the thing I strive for above all else for my children: financially, emotionally, in terms of their body image and self-esteem – a sense of security is the best gift I can give my girls.
Without health, we have nothing. We all deserve good health, and humanity, at the most basic and fundamental level, means ensuring its provision to those who need it.
Compassion is taking the time to understand your fellow human beings and gladly offering your help or support. Responding to others with genuine care costs nothing, but is one of the most valuable traits a person can possess. A beautiful quality, authentic compassion cannot be faked.
It’s all too easy to be set in our ways, stuck in a mindset which prevents us from living a balanced life. Whether we work too hard, play too hard, eat too much or are too strict with our diets, finding the middle ground and enjoying a little bit of what you fancy is the healthiest place to be.
Balance sounds so simple, but can be difficult to achieve – it’s something I very much aspire to and find myself working on regularly!
Ethics deals with rules, regulations, and people’s efforts in terms of equity, or at least equality. Unfortunately there’s no magic formula for correcting all that is wrong, but ethics mean a commitment to do better, for everyone, always.
People usually put great emphasis on the significance of justice; it’s at the heart of most communities. While justice is hugely important to me personally, it’s a concept which has also served as a big life lesson:
Morality is not inevitable. Life is not fair. We can do our best, the law can be on our side – and still justice will not always prevail.
While many of the characteristics on this list are about showing consideration to others, this one is all about you, and ties in neatly with the above point.
There are times when we can know in our hearts that something is wrong or unjust – and that we’re unable to change it. I love the Serenity Prayer as a reminder to remain composed in these situations:
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.
Accepting your lot – the good and bad in your life, as well as any shame or guilt you may be harbouring – is the best way to achieve contentment. It frees you from regrets, comparison, and wishful thinking.
No matter the question, gratitude is the answer.
It facilitates the process of acceptance, enables us to recognise silver linings, focus on the good, and nurture a positive outlook.
Few things are more valuable. Loyalty, when it’s found, is to be cherished.
A more frivolous quality perhaps, but a lovely one. Wonder is what creates curiosity and drives learning. It’s not one of the very most vital values I want for my girls, but I hope between us we can cultivate a sense of wonder, one that they’ll never lose.
Why are we alive if not to experience pockets of joy? I don’t hold unrealistic expectations of living on a constant high, but those occasional moments of bliss are what give life its beauty.
Empathy is what makes us human; the ability to relate to others, adapt our behaviour to provide support and comfort. It’s a marker of emotional intelligence, and it’s becoming more highly prized in professional settings, which is no bad thing.
Self-discipline is an admirable quality, and in my opinion it ties in strongly with purpose: when you’re passionate about what you’re trying to achieve, it’s much easier to be driven.
Acknowledging, accepting, and embracing responsibility for yourself, your behaviour, your dependents, and the world, is vital when it comes to being a decent human being.
The moment you accept responsibility for everything in your life is the moment you gain the power to change anything in your life.Hal Elrod
Not everybody believes in intuition, but rather than being a divine sixth sense (I don’t subscribe to the paranormal), I consider intuition to be instinctual. It’s an incognisant, primitive sense that we don’t understand, but rarely lets us down; the ability, perhaps, to read a person or situation on an innate level that we’re not consciously aware of, but is no less valid.
In my experience, intuition is an enormously powerful survival mechanism and listening to your gut is usually a wise move.
Wisdom comes not with age, but experience. It’s understanding that we should not judge others, and knowing from experience precisely why: that it’s easy to call a situation wrong.
Wisdom is the ability to see the big picture, to be astute, discerning, and open-minded. It’s having the humility to leave yourself room to change your mind, in all things.
When we’re confident in who we are and not jealous or in unhealthy competition with others, it’s easy to want to empower the people around us. Building others up is a positive and healthy approach to life, and will never compromise your own success.
How we define spirituality is evolving. Traditionally it equates to religion, the divine, or a higher cosmic power.
However, the mysterious concept has broadened to include anything that moves you. For example, some people may describe it as a feeling of affinity with nature or the universe; for others it might be a sense of deep connection with the inner self.
While it’s difficult to define spirituality because it can’t be pigeonholed and means different things to different people, what becomes clear is that it has core elements which remain constant:
Spirituality is about discovering meaning in life, in order to experience calm, clarity, and balance. Fundamentally, it’s about finding your own sense of peace, whatever that means to you.
The ultimate goal: to be at peace.
For me, peace means a healthy balance of all of the above. It means having integrity, purpose and drive; wonder and gratitude and joy. But also awareness, acceptance, and balance.
It means being okay with myself, by virtue of being the best person I can, to myself and others, but primarily to and for my children.
Aligning With Your Lived Values For a Purposeful and Contented Life
Understanding what core values are is meaningless without knowing how they each fit into your life, both in terms of your own ideals, and how you’re currently living.
Which values are non-negotiable for you? Do your circumstances demonstrate this, or is there room for you to improve the alignment of your actions with your personal values?
When there’s a mismatch between your core values and your lifestyle, it will be difficult to feel fulfilled as you’ll always feel that something is missing. Embracing your core values and living in alignment with them is the best way to achieve contentment and stability.
How to Identify Your Personal Core Values
The first step to living by your values is identifying which of them carry the most weight for you.
This is important because when you identify the principles that matter most to you, you’ll be able to live authentically, and that’s what creates self-worth.
Here’s how to get started with identifying your core values:
- Think about a time you felt especially proud, peaceful, of fulfilled. What was the situation? What were you doing? How did you feel? Why?
- Think about situations or circumstances that create drama or friction in your life. What feelings contribute to the conflict?
- Consider what things are triggers in your life. How do they make you feel? Why?
- Looking at all of the lists you’ve created, and referring to the list of values above as a starting point, try to find patterns in what makes you positive and content, and what tends to cause you pain or stress. Analysing this information should help you to narrow down what values are most meaningful to you personally.
How to Define Your Personal Values
Instead of simply having a list of words, really contemplate what each of them means to you.
Think about the single word being the name of the value, and the deeper meaning of it being something that you define. It may differ to how somebody who shares the same core value would articulate its meaning, and that’s fine. The point of this exercise is to get clear about your own feelings, and precisely what is important to you in life, so that you can lean into that and make it a fundamental part of your lived values going forward, and not merely an ideal.
You could write a statement in your journal about each value you’ve identified, including its meaning, and how and why it is so valuable to you. For example:
Positivity is understanding the difference between a bad day, and a bad attitude. I can choose to accept that bad days will happen, but they do not define my life because I know better days are coming. I believe that mistakes and hardships are learning opportunities, and that I can reframe every situation which causes me pain to find a positive perspective.
If you prefer, you could simply bullet point ideas and concepts below each value name. However you choose to define your values, the act of writing them down is a powerful way to really help clarify and establish all the principles according to which you must live in order to feel at peace.
Having a written record is also great for enabling you to refer back and check in that you’re living in alignment with those values and that you haven’t inadvertently lost your way.
How to Identify Personal Value Conflicts
Once you’ve identified your personal values, consider which areas in your life undermine these core beliefs.
For example, it may be that the way your place of work handles disputes seems unjust and causes you a great deal of anguish, which may point to compromised values of justice and ethics. Maybe you’re becoming frustrated with a loved one who is negative and draining, because your values include positivity and gratitude; or perhaps the number of hours you have to work takes you away from your family more than you’d like, which might suggest values of recognition and balance which are not being met.
Once you’ve identified areas in your life where your core values are being compromised, think about how you may be able to change your circumstances so that you’re living your values with integrity.
Time to Commit and Realign Your Life With Your Values
Aligning your life with your personal values is an ongoing commitment. It involves regularly checking in with yourself and how you feel, to ensure your values haven’t slipped in any areas.
You can be sure that if you’re not feeling content, somewhere in your life, one or more of the principles you’ve identified as one of your core beliefs is being compromised. One of the best ways to ensure that your personal values for living by are not being undermined is through journaling.
Journaling regularly can help you to record and analyse your feelings, identify patterns, and essentially notice if things veer off course, which in turn allows you to recognise opportunities for personal growth, intentional living, and purpose.
Committing to living authentically, in alignment with our core values, is what brings self-worth, satisfaction, and a fulfilled and meaningful life.