Living your values is a prerequisite for achieving happiness.
In his book The Happiness Hypothesis psychologist Jonathan Haidt reveals research he’s conducted which has found that human beings are born with 5 inherent values:
1. Caring about other people and not doing anything to harm them (physically or emotionally).
2. Being fair, reciprocating kindness, and following the Golden Rule.
3. Being loyal to people in your group, cooperating, and helping others to succeed.
4. Respecting authority.
5. Practicing self-control and restraint.
As adults, Haidt discovered, most people adhere to the first 2 core values, but almost half of the American population largely abandon the last 3. Other studies show that as many as 15-20% of people in our society do not live according to any of these values. When people lose touch with their values they become self-centered, self-absorbed, and self-protective. Being focused on oneself generates disrespect toward others because it leads to “I win – You lose” thinking, making it impossible to have mutually satisfying relationships.
Ignoring an opportunity to show respect is considered to be a slight. Avoiding, withdrawing, criticizing, or humiliating someone is disrespectful. Disrespectful people have only their own best interest in mind. To get their way they want to manipulate us by presenting their opinions as fact and distortions as reality. The best way to evaluate what someone is telling you is to put it writing, as good writing is clear thinking made visible. Bad writing reflects bad thinking and will appear to be confusing or contradictory or it will lack any evidence to support the contention being asserted.
Disrespect leads people to mistake friend from foe. When people scan for what’s wrong, they allow their thoughts to dwell in the realm of doubt, mistrust, and dismissal of others. Sometimes such fears are warranted, but most times they are misjudgments of people based on prejudice, misinformation, distortion of the facts, or mistaken beliefs about others being out to get you.
The worst form of disrespect, however, occurs when someone tries to violate our core values. Think about how you feel when someone is uncaring, unfair, unkind, uncooperative, unlawful, or uncontrolled. You’re likely outraged by their behavior and have a deep sense that their actions are fundamentally wrong.
Disrespect for others is shown by interrupting, insisting, denying, dismissing, and disagreeing. Respect, on the other hand, is based on the belief that it’s important that people listen to each other, comprehend what’s important to each of them, and understand how that translates into meaningful actions that lead to a win-win outcome. One path creates contention, chaos, and catastrophe while the other leads to connection, calmness, and closeness.
To correct the bias that’s built into our self-protective mechanisms, we need to engage in thoughtful dialogue, demonstrate empathy for the feelings of others, carefully consider the evidence that others present, and correct our thinking when it’s not supported by the facts. That requires focusing on others more than ourselves, using inquiry more than advocacy, and appreciating the positive parts of people rather than highlighting their negative traits.
Showing someone respect requires action: paying attention to them by listening to what they have to say, responding to their good news with positive energy, reacting to their bad news with empathy, and recognizing the worthwhile contributions they bring to our life.
When people on a team share the 5 core values a respectful connection is created. Respect in a group builds when people act on the values that they have in common. It expands when teammates express gratitude to business partners who are loyal, coworkers who are cooperative, and bosses who are fair. Appreciation spirals relationships up into exchanges characterized by behaviors that signal admiration, accountability and esteem, all of which flow from respect.
Without a keen awareness of core values you’re prone to making poor choices because you lack a connection to your inner guide – the spiritual part of you that keeps you focused on what’s most valuable in your life. Without being firmly anchored in a set of guiding principles you’ll make expedient choices that give you immediate gratification rather than making decisions that lead to long-term authentic happiness.
The best place to begin building a more values-based life is practicing self-control and restraint. Respect your emotions by looking for what’s right and being appreciative. Respect your mind by keeping it open and accepting that other people’s points of view are also valid. Respect your body by exercising 5-6 times per week to burn off the buildup of stress chemicals.