If your life were to turn out to be terrific, what would that look like? When positive psychologists study people who are successful and satisfied with their life, they discover that those who are authentically happy have taken the time to determine a destination and a course of action that has led a valuable life.
Researchers found that people who are the happiest develop a clear vision of a great life by focusing on their values. By determining what’s most important to them, they’re able to picture how they want their values to play out in their life.
People who are languishing in their lives, on the other hand, are like a boat drifting on the water with a broken rudder. The direction of their lives is determined by external forces, so they end up going wherever the wind blows them. They have no idea of where to find a secure harbor. Nor do they have a rudder with which to steer themselves away from trouble. They frequently find themselves carried by the currents to some place they don’t want to be.
Have you ever taken the time to determine your top priorities? The hard part of creating a values-based vision is sorting out the many elements of life that are important. Your values were forged during the peaks and valleys you experienced in life. Those times taught you “valuable” lessons, e.g., perseverance gets you a college degree.
Here’s an exercise that will help you to define what fuels your passion and purpose. Think about your biggest ups and downs. Look over the following words (and feel free to add others) to determine the 3 – 5 most important values you gained as a result of going through those experiences:
Acceptance, adventure, appreciation, authenticity, career, caring, charity, cheerfulness, cleanliness, courage, creativity, curiosity, dependability, empathy, family, fairness, faithfulness, fitness, forgiveness, freedom, friendship, gratitude, happiness, health, helping, honesty, hope, humility, humor, influence, integrity, innovation, intelligence, justice, kindness, leadership, learning, love, loyalty, mentoring, nurturing, optimism, patience, perseverance, perspective, pleasure, prudence, recognition, security, self-control, self-esteem, simplicity, stewardship, spirituality, success, thriftiness, trustworthiness, truthfulness, volunteering, wealth, wisdom, zest.
Having awareness of your values will help you to live by them more consistently. In part, this will occur when you realize your values are being violated. For example, you value being collaborative but you have a boss that’s dictatorial. With that realization, you’ll develop more motivation to coach up with your boss, or to find a different one.
Knowing your values enables you to envision what your life would look like if you were more consistently at your best. Imagine you’ve reached your 80s; you’ve been able to live a life that has brought you great satisfaction because you focused on doing what was most important to you.
Write down “at my best” statements for each of your values: “I value _______. I was at my best when I ….” For example, “I value helping people. I was at my best when I was teaching people how to live happier lives.”
Are you going to take the time to complete the 3 – 5 statements? If not, you’re missing out on a valuable opportunity. You’ll get busy and you’ll start paying attention to what’s immediate rather than what’s important. You’ll slip back into drifting through life rather than directing it.
Write down how your life will end up if you successfully fulfill your most important values. Then, come back to the present and figure out the first step to take in order to propel yourself toward that vision. Write down an additional sentence: “The step I’m going to take today is ______.” That would sound something like this: “The step I’m going to take today is to volunteer to tutor young people who are struggling in school.”
These 5 statements must stir your passion. That means you must feel a strong motivation to take action. If you don’t feel energized to actually do what you’ve written down, rethink what you’re willing to commit to doing today. Living your values isn’t always easy, so you’ll need to be passionate about taking action in order to pursue the positive outcomes you desire. Find a small step to take for which you have enthusiasm.
Finally, ask yourself what would hold you back from taking action. Perhaps you’re concerned that you might not have a good relationship with a particular young person. Create an “If, then” statement. “If we don’t hit it off after 2-3 meetings, then we can ask for another assignment.”