Philosophers and theologians have been speaking and writing about the search for meaning in life for thousands of years. And most of us reach a point where we want more than to go through the motions of living. That means identifying our values so we can live a value-oriented life.

Values Give Our Lives Meaning

Your values are what matters to you: the things that you stand for, that give your life purpose. These are the things that give us happiness, make us feel proud and fulfilled.

Love, justice, reliability, self-control, honor, creativity, generosity, self-reliance.

Discipline, order, equality, success.

Family, faith, balance, commitment.

Contentment, prudence, competitiveness, hard work.

Selflessness, serenity, spontaneity, practicality.

The list goes on. It’s a different list for each of us.

Values are different from goals. Goals are the steps you take to get you from here to there, to achieve the things we want to achieve. Values are the reasons we take those steps.

Values are not rules imposed by others. Yes, we learn what to value in life first from parents, mentors like teachers and spiritual leaders, and the groups we belong to such as church, school, work, and social groups. But when we live a value-oriented life, we reach beyond mere acceptance of the values of others to choose our own.

To live value-oriented lives we must identify and prioritize the values that have the most meaning for us. These are the principles that give our lives meaning.

How to Identify Your Values

A good way to begin is to remember and record “peak” moments in your life. At what times did you feel happiest, most proud of yourself? What achievement made you feel the best and the best about yourself? Was it graduating from school, winning the big game, feeling yourself part of a team? Did you conquer a challenge, create something beautiful, complete a long, hard task? Did you feel a sense of justice and “rightness” about what was happening?

Make a list of these peak moments and write about them. What, exactly, made you feel good about what you did? Were you with other people? What factors contributed to your feeling? How did the experience fulfill a desire? Connect these peak moments and your feelings about them to a value.

When you have a list of values from your peak experiences, prioritize. Choose the top two or three values. If you could satisfy only one of them, which would it be? Work through your list, comparing values, until you have a list of seven or so.

Reaffirm Your Values

Check your list of top-priority values. How do they fit with your life as it is now? Do they make you feel good about yourself? They should be things you would willingly share with people you respect. They should represent ideas and actions you want to support, even if they aren’t “popular” choices. Your core values are not mere preferences. They are the roots of who you are.

To keep yourself anchored in your personal values, make them part of your daily life. Give them a name. For example, if your value is creativity, you could call it your “sky’s the limit” value. Choose and hang pictures that relate to your core values. Use post-it notes and affirmations to remind you what you truly value.

Test your values from time to time. Have they shifted? Is a low-priority value higher on the list now? Test yourself as well. Have you slipped into doing what others expect of you rather than what you expect of yourself?

Use Your Values to Help Make Life Decisions

Your values are the basis of your character. When it comes time to make a difficult decision: go or stay; this job or another; choosing the person you spend your life with; ask yourself how the choices line up with your values.

When your decisions are based on the values that define who you are, you are likely to make decisions that you can not only live with, but that help you grow and prosper.

A Value-Oriented Life Is a Meaningful Life

To live like you mean it you must go deeper into yourself. Finding what you value and using that knowledge to shape your decisions means you are living more authentically. A value-oriented life also takes you beyond yourself and the present moment. Living life like you mean it means staying anchored in who we are and what you personally believe in and stand for. When you focus on your values, you focus on meaning.

If feel like parts of your life are not lining up quite how you imagined it to be you might need help. Call me and together we can create the tools you need to live a more authentic and meaningful life.