“I dread the morning. It means a whole day to face, again. I’ve stopped responding to friends who want me to hang out. I can’t seem to get excited about anything anymore. It just doesn’t mean anything to me…what’s even the point of it all? I’m tired all the time.”
This is what someone with depression often sounds like. It is also what someone who feels a lack of purpose in their life sounds like, either because they’ve lost it, or they never had a clear grasp on it. Sometimes this is what happens when you spend too much time watching the news.
In this post, I want to give some practical ways of identifying values. When things are not going well, it helps to know what is important to you, on the deepest level, and to be able to communicate that clearly to those who care.
When you feel hopeless, like the world is falling apart, the planet is sick, the humans are at war, it’s time to re-focus. Think about what you are building and creating, not just on what is not working around you.
Knowing your values will help you to identify where change could be helpful, and how to make decisions about the big stuff.
When our family moved away from organized religion (more on that in a later post), I worried about how we would pass on our values to our kids. For myself, I knew that I was motivated by the things that were close to my heart. I had emotional connection to them, and I had carefully thought them through, practiced them, and looked for wisdom from others who embodied them. I started by articulating my values, as best as I could, by writing them out and then formulating them into a type of mission statement. Here are a couple:
“CREATIVITY: I want to be a creator, not just a consumer. I want to add to the world in the areas that I also receive from the world. I want to create beauty and add useful things, beautiful things, wisdom, knowledge, and love.”
“INTEGRITY: I want to be seen for who I really am. I want to check that my day to day life matches what I say is important to me, in terms of the time and money spent, and honour given to these things.”
This are very lofty, high-minded, and somewhat vague sounding values and goals, but the idea was to communicate to myself in a thoughtful, ‘heart’ language, what I wanted my life to be about.
I’ve come across a wide variety of exercises to help find your values. Here are a few:
- Listing all of the values that are important to you is one way to start. See my Values list for some ideas. These are values that have been found in many religions Including Bahai, Hinduism, Christianity, Judaism, Islam and more…
- Think of all the things and situations that you have a strong emotional response to, and work at uncovering what the underlying ‘rule’ or ‘idea’ is. For example, if I have a strong reaction to a news story about animal cruelty, I might do some journalling or have a conversation with someone to find out what it is about that situation that affects me so strongly (aside from its traumatic nature). I may find that I believe that my underlying value is ‘kindness towards all living things.
- Review your favourite books or movies, and look at the characteristics of your favourite, and least favourite, characters. This might help you identify your underlying values. See Exploring Values through Stories to help you ‘unpack’ this.
Knowing what is important to you will also help you to understand why you respond to various situations the way you do, and be able to communicate this to others.
How this looks on a day to day basis is a whole other exercise. As suggested in, The Rat Race Ain’t for Humans, start by logging your activities throughout the course of a day, every day, for one week. Do the same for money spent. One helpful tool to analyze these logs, is the Eisenhower’s Urgent/Important Matrix . Try placing your activities within the matrix to see where you’re spending your time and money and how you might adjust to focus on the really important, but not often urgent things, You may find that life holds more meaning.
For more on work/life balance alternatives see The Rat Race Ain’t Made for Humans – Get out in 4 easy 😉 steps
For more on communicating important values/ life changes to your partner see We’re Talking, Big Changes
For more on education/life balance see Time to “Quit” School
For more on work/school/life balance seeDrowning in School-Work