Dr. John Schinnerer examines values as it relates to your core beliefs which ultimately define who you are and also how you look at Self-Interest and also how you look outwards into the world around you.
It seems that values have been rediscovered with the downturn in the economy. Many people are asking themselves “If it’s not money that makes me happy, what does make me happy?”
A happy and satisfying life involves behaving according to a set of ethics, standards, or values. Values are the core beliefs upon which you operate your life. You may be aware of your core beliefs. You may not. In my counseling and coaching work, I’ve noticed that the vast majority of people do not have any idea what their top five values are. Our values are the stars by which we navigate ourselves through life. Thoreau wrote, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” Ours is much too busy and noisy a world. Our lives take on a frenetic pace and people lose track of the values that give life meaning and purpose. Everyone says they are for values. The problem is their actions are not in keeping with their words. Thus, we have Christian schools that talk about treating children with loving compassion while verbally flagellating them in the classrooms. People with few values are more likely to be uncaring, conforming, inconsistent, and self-conflicted. The less we know what our values are, the more ambiguous our lives are. The more we understand our values, the better able we are to make the right choices which lead to right action. This leads to decisive acts of courage which are primarily the ability to say what needs to be said and do what needs to be done.
Ethical Energy Defined
According to the authors of The Power of Full Engagement, “Ethical energy is the connection to a deeply held set of values and to a purpose that is beyond our self-interest. Anything that ignites the human spirit serves to drive full engagement and to maximize performance in whatever mission we are on. The key muscle that fuels ethical energy is character – the courage and conviction to live by our values, even when doing so requires personal sacrifice and hardship. Ethical energy is sustained by balancing a commitment to others with adequate self-care….the capacity to live by our deepest values depends on regularly renewing our spirit – seeking ways to rest and rejuvenate and to reconnect with the values that we find most inspiring and meaningful.” The alternative to living according to your values is to operate in survival mode, fueled by fear, mistrust and anxiety. Survival mode is marked by a sense of desperation where you are focused on filling your immediate needs for food, clothing, warmth and shelter. Survival mode is also characterized by the mentality of a victim. Life happens to you, not because of you. If you are passively accepting everything that comes your way as inevitable, you are not living according to your values. You are living in survival mode.
Martin Seligman, author of Authentic Happiness, has put a slightly different twist on values. Seligman states, “To be a virtuous person is to display, by acts of will, all or at least most of the six ubiquitous virtues: wisdom, courage, humanity, justice, temperance, and transcendence. There are several distinct routes to each of these six. One can display a virtue, such as justice by acts of fairness and loyalty.” Seligman calls these routes strengths and each is measurable and acquirable. They are ubiquitous across cultures (i.e. they occur everywhere). According to Seligman, there are seven criteria by which we know that a characteristic is a strength.
First, a strength is a trait, a psychological characteristic that can be seen across different situations and over time.
Second, a strength is valued in its own right. We value a strength for its own sake, even in the absence of clear beneficial outcomes. While a strength can produce good consequences, it doesn’t have to.
Third, a strength can be seen in what parents wish for in their newborn children. Strengths are states we desire that require no further justification.
Fourth, onlookers are usually elevated and inspired by observing strengths. Strengths typically produce authentic positive emotion in the doer – pride, satisfaction, joy, fulfillment – and the observer – inspired and uplifted.
Fifth, strengths are supported by the dominant culture in the form of institutions, rituals, parables, maxims and children’s stories.
Sixth, role models and paragons in the culture compellingly illustrate a strength or virtue.
Seventh, they are ubiquitous. Strengths are valued in almost every culture. They are not quite universal, as some exceptions to every rule can be found. But, they are ubiquitous. They take place everywhere.
“Try not to become a man of success, but a man of value.” – Albert Einstein
Each individual has a set of beliefs and ideas about abstract concepts called values. They describe how much worth a person places on various ideas, objects, or beliefs. Societies have values that are shared between many of the participants in that culture. These values may be put into four categories:
• Ethics (good, bad, moral, immoral, amoral, right, wrong, permissible, impermissible)
• Aesthetics (beautiful, ugly, unbalanced, pleasing)
• Group Norms (political, ideological, religious or social beliefs and values)
• Inborn (inborn values such as reproduction and survival, a controversial issue)
Values are our core beliefs regarding those principles that we believe are most important and desirable. On occasion, we encounter ethical problems which pit two of our most cherished values against one another. In such a situation, we cannot act in a way that is in keeping with both these values. We solve such problems by prioritizing our top values that are relevant to the situation. Each of us has a set of prized values. Many of us simply are not aware of them. We must have an awareness of our values as well as the intention to act upon them for values to be useful to us.
Stephen Covey and colleagues call these prized values our personal principles. He cautions against self-centered values such as “self respect” or “a sense of accomplishment” because they can lead us to develop pragmatic, utilitarian relationships with other individuals. Covey suggests that we adopt prized values that are more holistic and anchored in the fundamental realities of nature, spirit and healthy interpersonal relationships. Prizing your family higher than your career is a good example of adopting holistic and healthy values.
Why Values Are Essential
Let’s look at how living according to one’s values can lead to a more fulfilling and purposeful life. Imagine that you could do whatever it is that brings you the most joy in your life. Picture anything you like that is deeply fulfilling to you. What you have then is a picture of a person living in accordance to his or her most cherished values. There is a close link between values and living a fulfilling life. Once your values are clarified, you will have a map that guides you through key decisions. Through this process we learn what is most important to the client and what is not. Clients discover what is truly necessary in their lives.
Clarifying values helps you to take a stand, to take calculated risks, and to make choices based on what is personally fulfilling to you. By its very nature, honoring your values is fulfilling, even when times get tough. You can suffer through discomfort if you know it will pass and you are living in accordance with your values. Making decisions based on your top values will always lead to a more fulfilling decision. This leads to right behavior and a fulfilling life. Some examples of values are creativity, helping others, independence, fun, intimacy, power, friendship, peace of mind, nature, learning, adventure, spirituality. They cannot be touched, but they can be seen. You see them being acted out in how people behave. Someone living perfectly in accordance with values will feel the pain of a disturbing situation, and perhaps some psychological disturbance, but will remain tranquil at the center.
Equanimity is the ideal. Equanimity means evenness of mind, or in this case, evenness of emotion. When possible, excessive negative emotion is to be deflected or rerouted. No one lives perfectly in accordance with their values. The goal is to remain constantly aware of your values and to strive to behave in accordance with them. Values remind us of our authentic self and our unique role in the universe. All of us benefit from a series of ethical guideposts which we can use to steer our actions towards the greater good.
The problem is that many situations in our lives fall into a gray area where values conflict and the right behavior is not readily apparent. It is helpful in these situations to have your values rank ordered in terms of their importance to you.
When that doesn’t work, there is a framework to help guide your decision making process. With that in mind, here is a framework that has been helpful for millions of people. This framework is based on five steps:
• Define the situation
• Gather data from different sources
• Be aware of your prioritized list of values
• Identify your options or actions
• Weigh the options in terms of how congruent each one is with your values
• Make a decision
Always remember that the best courses of action rely on intuition, emotion (your “gut” feeling), data from your senses, data from trusted sources, and what you know is right in the larger scheme of things. It is also helpful to write down your top 5 values (e.g., family, work, money, happiness, etc.) and to prioritize them. Trouble arises when your values come into conflict with one another. If you know what your values are and how they compare to one another, there is less chance of compromising your values. The more you think and act with integrity, the more you become an ethical person.
By John Schinnerer, Ph.D.
About the Author
Dr. John Schinnerer
Dr. John Schinnerer is in private practice helping folks learn anger management, stress management and the latest ways to deal with destructive negative emotions. He also helps clients find what makes life meaningful and fulfilling. His practice is located in the Danville-San Ramon Medical Center at 913 San Ramon Valley Blvd., #280, Danville, California 94526. He graduated summa cum laude from U.C. Berkeley with a Ph.D. in psychology. Dr. Schinnerer has been an executive and psychologist for over 10 years.
Dr. John Schinnerer is President and Founder of Guide To Self, a company that
coaches clients to their potential using the latest in positive psychology, mindfulness and attentional control. Dr. John Schinnerer hosted over 200 episodes of Guide To Self Radio, a prime time radio show, in the San Francisco Bay Area. Dr. Schinnerer is President of Infinet Assessment, a psychological testing company to help firms select the best applicants. Dr. Schinnerer’s areas of expertise range from positive psychology, to emotional awareness, to moral development, to sports psychology. Dr. Schinnerer wrote the award-winning, “Guide To Self: The Beginner’s Guide To Managing Emotion and Thought,” which is available at Amazon.com, BarnesAndNoble.com and AuthorHouse.com.