On many occasions I meet with clients and they express a feeling of not finding joy in their life. After exploring physiological, cultural, religious/spiritual, and other influential factors we jump into a deeper understanding of who they are, what they do, how they function day-to-day, and most importantly what matters to them.
Identifying “What matters to you” can be further translated into a more common used term – Values. Your values are what you have established as important to you across your life. Values, whether you recognize them or not, influence how you experience life. Life can feel more empowering when you know your values. Your sense of self-agency can increase tremendously from this self-awareness.
Values influence your priorities, often measure how you judge your success/failures, provide guidance across your beliefs, etc. They also may help you navigate life experiences through that internal gut “feeling” you often get.
When your efforts, activities, and general behavior match your values, life can feel fulfilling, good, satisfied, and content. On the other hand, when your life situation doesn’t align with your values, that's when things can feel “off”, “wrong”, or “empty.” This can be a sign what is contributing to personal unhappiness or even influencing your ability to feel joy in your life.
An effective antidote to combat the feelings of being “off”, “wrong”, or “empty” involves identifying your personal values. Or, if you have previously established your values, it might be time to re-evaluate them. Values are typically stable and develop over your lifespan. As you move across the stages of life, your values may change. For example, after college when you start your career, money and status might be important to you. After some time, you may begin a family, work-life balance may become something more important to you.
Always make space and give yourself permission to adjust your values. It’s important to understand that not all your values will remain static. What was important or influenced you in the past may not be relevant now or match who you’ve developed into. Maintaining your values is like yoga. It’s an enduring practice.
Here’s a common example how understanding your values and honoring them can help reduce the stress with making decisions while also understanding how you can also find joy in the decisions you make.
Let’s say you’ve established that one of your current values has become family. Unfortunately, you’ve been invested in your career and your current workload includes 60hr work weeks, you travel a lot, and are absent from the family experience quite often. Over the last few years, you’ve felt internal stress, anxiety, and often experienced conflict with your partner. You cannot identify WHY? you feel stressed or anxiety. Or WHY? the two of you often fight or argue over inconsequential things.
In this scenario, it’s common to spend time understanding what your values were, when your career started, and what your values are now with your family growing. As a deeper understanding is developed identifying that your family has become a more important value can really help. When you know your own values, you can use them to make decisions about how to live your life.
By identifying your family as a priority and a more prominent value to you then your career you can begin to ask yourself a few more questions.
- How can I be involved in my family?
- What does my family want or need from me?
- What do I want to experience with my family?
- What does being involved with the family look like to them or me?
- Can I experience my family with my current job or do I need to make a change?
- Does my job allow me to be involved based on how I want to be involved?
- Should I pursue a different job?
After you’ve invested time in building an understanding in what the answers are to some of these questions you can begin to develop a more confident and empowering sense of self-agency to make an informed decision to honor what matters to you, i.e., family, and begin to make the changes necessary.
In the prior example, instead of making a knee jerk decision to quit a job with the hope to reduce stress, anxiety, and conflict, you’ve established that your making changes, which might involve changing jobs, to align with what matters most to you and that is your family.
Making choices and decisions based on your values can reduce the unknown “why?” am I making this decision, it can reduce the stress and anxiety involved with challenging life choices, all the while enabling us to begin moving closer towards experiencing joy!