A friend of mine had bought into the idea that to truly live her dream life she needed to be an entrepreneur.

After talking with her, she filled out the values exercise I use with my clients. She put her top five values on her refrigerator and looked at them every day. After several weeks of seeing her values listed, she realized that being an entrepreneur wasn’t necessary to live a life based on her values. In fact, she realized that a full-time job could actually support her values more than being an entrepreneur could.

Her happiness was no longer based on the idea of being an entrepreneur, but rather on the values that guided her life.

What Are Values?

Our values are things we regard as important to our lives. They are the beliefs we prioritize or hold dear. Our values grow and change with us and are often shaped by our culture, religion and families. Ultimately, each person takes all the information they’re exposed to and creates a value system that feels right to them. When the things we say and do are in line with our values, our lives are generally happier. People experience more contentment and satisfaction when they live a life based on values. 

Who’s Influencing Us?

Values are shaped by many forces. All too often, we’re told what our values should be. It can happen as subtly as observing our friends’ lives and desiring what they have, to the blatant advertising we are bombarded with every day in the media.

The negative effect of social media on personal values has been well documented. University of Wisconsin communications professor and researcher Jonathan D’Angelo says social media “can make you question your values. If you keep getting exposure to something, it can make it seem more normative, which may challenge your values.”

A typical adult’s daily media consumption has grown from 5.2 hours in 1945 to 9.8 hours currently. The average number of advertisement and brand exposures per day per person is upwards of 5,000. We are literally surrounded by advertising that many times promotes values that influence us without our even noticing.

Do we stop to ask if the messages we’re receiving are things we truly want in our lives? Are we chasing what others want for their life instead of examining and focusing on what is most important to ourselves? It can be an ah-ha moment when you step back and determine that what’s most important to you is not the same as what your friends or the commercial world have been saying you should value.

Why Values Are Important

In an article published in the Annual Review of Psychology titled “Materialistic Values and Goals”, author Tim Kasser says, “Substantial evidence shows that people who place a relatively high priority on materialistic values/goals consume more products and incur more debt, have lower-quality interpersonal relationships, act in more ecologically destructive ways, have adverse work and educational motivation, and report lower personal and physical well-being.”

“Living life within your values becomes the framework by which you make intentional financial decisions.”

Compass, a U.K. based think tank, published a report titled “The Advertising Affect.” The report’s conclusion is that advertising promotes values that are directly opposed to human well-being among other things. 

How Values Relate to Money

Of course spending money is not intrinsically bad, but thoughtless spending can lead to a world of trouble. It all comes down to being mindful of our values. Living life within your values becomes the framework by which you make intentional financial decisions. Instead of spending without thought and having no recollection where your money went, make each financial decision viewed through the lens of your values.

  • Will buying a new car versus used support our goals?
  • Do I value the ease of eating out for lunch every day or would I rather be saving that money for something I want more?
  • Am I buying things because I need or want them?

When values are not prioritized it can lead to a fractured life. People often make financial decisions without putting thought into why these purchases are important to them. Even if it’s a good thing, it doesn’t mean it’s the right thing.

When you don’t make the effort to know and apply your values, you can feel swept away by life, with decisions being made for you, only to wake up realizing you are living someone else’s best life instead of your own.

“Even if it’s a good thing, it doesn’t mean it’s the right thing.”

Living your life based on your values is by no means easy. By its very nature, values are different for different people. Being married means two people have to find a common ground for their personal values. You may be tempted to look to others for guidance, someone who has lived a life you want to live. While there is nothing wrong with following in others footsteps, your journey is still ultimately unique to you, and fool proof templates don’t exist. Charting your own course and making difficult decisions takes courage.

Spending without thought is easy, but the reality is that for every financial decision that is made, values are being defined.

How to Identify Your Values

To determine your values, think of times in your life when you were most proud, happy, fulfilled or satisfied. What was it about those times that made you feel good?

For example, say hiking is one of your fondest memories. Was it being in the outdoors that you valued, or perhaps exercise? Your top values may include nature or fitness.

Maybe you remember feeling the most fulfilled when everyone got together for Christmas (family), you got your PhD (education) or when you marched in a demonstration (justice). Maybe you are most content when you are in the garden (nurturing), walking the streets of Barcelona (travel) or soaking up sun on a beach (leisure).

If you find your top values to be, say, family, health and travel, ask yourself if the bigger home you are contemplating purchasing supports those values. Will working the extra hours needed for a bigger mortgage interfere with the time you hold dear with your family? Will bigger house payments take away from the travel fund that you look forward to using each year? Will more time at work mean less time to exercise regularly? These are all questions you have to weigh to determine what will bring the most satisfaction in the end.

“It’s not hard to make decisions when you know what your values are.” — Roy Disney

If you’re having a hard time identifying your values, download our free exercise.

It’s crucial to identify your personal values and reexamine them frequently. If you strive for someone else’s dream, it stands to reason that you’ll never find your bliss. Ask yourself if the life you are living is in harmony or at odds with those values. Making intentional decisions based on what’s most important to you can be liberating and will allow you to have the one thing we can agree that we all want: a happy and fulfilling life.


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