Think of the most loyal person you know. The most creative. The most generous, individualistic or compassionate. We all have people in our lives who stand out in a particular way. There’s a reason for this. These people stand out for us because of their strong values.
What are values? Where do they come from? How do they affect our lives? These are essential questions for every human being that wants to live a meaningful, fulfilling life.
What are values?
Values are the fundamental beliefs that govern our lives. They inspire how we act and speak. They guide our decisions about everything from career to personal growth. They embody the person we want to be, influencing how we treat others and how we interact with the world. To state it plainly, values are the core of who we are.
There are two types of values: personal values and cultural values. What are personal values? These are our own beliefs about right and wrong. They belong to us personally and they shape the way we look at the world. Cultural values are those that are accepted by the societies we grow up in. These values vary by both place and context but their effects on our lives can be just as powerful as personal values.
Company values and religious values are examples of cultural values. Types of personal values include individual values and group values – such as groups of friends or family.
How one’s personal values are defined is based on the feelings and sentiments one holds about themselves and the world around them. Personal values can be positive and lead to self-esteem and fulfillment. They can also be negative and be based on limiting beliefs. These values can cause problems in relationships and our overall interactions with the world at large.
Where do values come from?
Our values are formed most powerfully in childhood. Children are like sponges, soaking up the world around them – but this world is relatively small. They typically pick up on the values of close family members. Values also come from our efforts to earn the love we crave. Children want to be accepted, and they will adopt the values and beliefs they need to in order to earn that approval.
Personal values are also affected by current experiences and the people we surround ourselves with. Ever hear the phrase, “you are who your friends are?” We pick up little pieces from other people and our family, friends and significant others – the characteristics that we like. Then, we discard the characteristics that we don’t like. The end result is our existing personal values and beliefs. Both of these help you to determine whether something is “good” or “bad.”
Types of personal values in life
What are values? It depends on the context. There are many different types of personal values, but most can be grouped into those based on morals, aesthetics or family.
- Moral values help us determine what is right or wrong. These types of values are based on laws, religious beliefs or politics. Continents, states and cities tend to develop broad moral values, which are then passed down to those who live in the society. Once they are passed down to us, we then adopt them as personal values.
- Aesthetic values help us make judgments on beauty, artistic talent or music. Aesthetic values are more individualized but can be heavily influenced on how we were raised, who we spend time with and the aesthetic values of our culture.
- Family values vary from family to family. They relate to how time is spent together, how those within the family unit are treated and the structure of the family. The ultimate answer to “What are values?” is often that they are the same as your family’s values – or at least they start that way. After all, the initial source of your values is typically the immediate family.
Personal value examples
There are many examples of personal values in life. Because different things matter to different people, it is hard to produce an exhaustive list. Here are just a few that will help you grasp the concept and start to establish your own list of personal values.
- Learning: If you are constantly finding ways to feed your mind with new information and enjoy talking to others so you can discover more about them, learning is likely one of your important personal values.
- Individuality: Do you “march to the beat of your own drummer” and reject the status quo? If you define yourself strictly by your own standards and consistently disregard what others believe is the “right way” to live your life, you value individuality.
- Independence: The concept of freedom, including physical, emotional or financial freedom, is highly important to you. You live a life where the only limit is yourself and you pull from your strength and perseverance to make things happen.
- Generosity: If one of your personal values is generosity, you embody the belief that the secret to living is giving and you likely spend much of your time volunteering, donating or finding other ways to give back.
How to define your personal values
If you aren’t sure what your personal values are, start with thinking about what makes you feel good. These emotions will serve as a good guide to defining your personal values.
Ask yourself some questions to dive deeper into your true thoughts and feelings. These feelings are driven by your personal values. Here is a list of questions to get you started:
- When you think about your life, what is the most important aspect?
- What sort of news or stories inspire you?
- What sort of news or stories depress you?
- If you could change anything about the world, what would it be?
- When were you the happiest?
- At what point in your life were you the saddest?
- Who do you admire the most in life?
- What about them is admirable to you?
These questions will provide answers that will reveal your personal values in life. Once you have your list of important values, you can start to prioritize your life according to what is most important to you.
Why do values matter?
What are personal values if not a source of guidance throughout our lives? Our values shape us – they make us who we are – and there’s nothing wrong with that. They are a set of rules that dictate how we interact with and judge other people. Our values also determine how we view ourselves and how we see the world.
Most importantly, values deeply affect our personal relationships. We bring this set of rules into every connection we make – and with rules come expectations. We have pet peeves and our perceived concept of how things “should” be.
Sometimes these rules are valid. Other times they are just plain silly. We often impose our personal values on our partner without telling them about our expectations or needs, which only results in disappointment and frustration. How can someone live up to a standard if they don’t know what the standard is?
Think about it: When you say or hear things like, “If you loved me, you wouldn’t do X-Y-Z,” that is a value that we expect the people around us to follow. Ever get upset because someone didn’t do something they said they would do? That is also a value. But not letting people in on your expectations is why expectations are so dangerous. They can’t fulfill a commitment that they didn’t know they had.
We get upset with each other all of the time because someone did something to violate one of our personal values. In unhealthy relationships, each person uses the other as a constant sounding board for some rule the other one has violated, resulting in punishment that further harms the partnership.
Knowing the answer to the question, “What are values?” and being able to define your own personal set of rules is essential to building healthy, long-term relationships. When our values don’t complement those of our partner, conflict almost always ensues. And when our rules become unreasonable and make our relationships more difficult, then we need to re-evaluate the relationships. Perhaps it’s time to re-shape our beliefs and values so they create more harmony, not conflict. Or maybe we have to find a partner or group of friends that is more aligned with our personal values.
So where do values come from? How do they help or hinder you? Are these beliefs having a positive impact on your success and relationships, or are they holding you back? By taking an objective look at your beliefs and deciding how you can alter them to better suit your goals, you can ultimately find more fulfillment.