Realize Your Core Value

Happiness is not a goal; it’s a by-product of core value.

Posted Jun 21, 2020

Value is "the human cobweb," as Jerome Kagan aptly put it. To know anything about spiders, you have to understand the one thing that makes them unlike all other insects: They make cobwebs. To know about human beings, you have to grasp our ability to make things important to us — above and beyond survival utility — and worthy of appreciation, time, energy, effort, and sacrifice. You must understand our ability and our drive to create value.

We have to create value because it doesn't exist in nature. You’ll never see a sign in a starry sky or under a sunset, a work of art, a baby's face, or a lover's smile that reads, "Value this." All value is imposed on the world by the innate human drive to create it.

Valuing gives a heightened sense of well-being and vitality. You feel more alive looking at a beautiful sunset, feeling connected to a loved one, knowing genuine compassion for another person, having a spiritual experience, appreciating something creative, feeling committed to a cause or a group of people. The expansion of core value gives a greater sense of well-being, authenticity, and connection to others. High-value investment gives meaning, purpose, and vitality to life, with a stronger motivation to improve, create, build, appreciate, connect, or protect. It literally boosts the immune system and makes us physically healthier.

As value investment declines, so does meaning, purpose, vitality, and motivation. You begin to function more on automatic pilot with less interest and positive energy. If it declines too far, you begin to feel numb or depressed. If it declines drastically, you lose the will to live.

Value plays an enormously important role in emotional well being. We feel authentic when we are true to our deepest values, numb when we're indifferent to them, guilt and shame when we violate them, and utter meaninglessness when we lose touch with them.

Enhancing the Self vs. Inflating the Ego
An important distinction that seems lost in our times is between creating value and inflating the ego.

Creating and maintaining value enhances the sense of self by increasing motivation to learn, appreciate, grow, improve, connect, or protect. Inflating the ego is based on devaluing, i.e. downward comparison to others. For instance, you can value your intelligence if you see it as helping you learn, appreciate, grow, improve, etc. But it's nothing more than hollow inflation of a fragile ego when it makes you feel better than others.

Getting to Core Value
What is the most important thing about you as a person? This is a difficult question to answer, in part because there are a lot of important things about you; you're probably honest, loyal, a hard worker, and so forth. Those are important qualities, to be sure, but they tend to be of equal value, and we need to get to something more fundamental. There are various methods of teasing out core value, but the following is the quickest way to get at the most important thing about you.

Imagine that you have grown children. How would you rather they feel about you? "Mom and Dad were honest, loyal, hardworking (whatever you might think is the most important think about you). I'm not sure they really cared about us, but they were always honest and hardworking, etc."

Or would you prefer they feel this way: "Mom and Dad were human and made mistakes, but they always cared about us and wanted what was best for us."

For most people, love and compassion for loved ones is the most important thing about them. It is what people inevitably regret not having done enough of later in life. On your deathbed, you won't fret about whether your spouse and children thought you were right; you'll desperately hope that they knew how much you cared about them.

As long as you are true to the most important thing about you, you will feel authentic.

Most other core values relate to some form of connection or appreciation. Below are the major areas of value-creation. Tapping into any one of them can relieve guilt, shame, emotional numbness, even utter meaninglessness.

Attachment (Love)
The formation and maintenance of affectionate bonds, i.e., attachment, is the first value we create. Newborns come out of the womb seeking to attach to someone who will love and care for them and who will accept love from them. Everything we learn to value in life rises from that initial creation of value.

Basic Humanity
Most people have a sense of basic humanity that motivates cooperative, altruistic, and protective behavior. In adversity, it motivates the rescue and nurturance of strangers. Basic humanity allows us to recognize the inherent value of other people. The more aware we are of our sense of basic humanity, the more humane we feel. When desensitized to basic humanity, we feel less humane.

Spirituality is a sense of connection to something larger than the self, which can be God, nature, the cosmos, a social or moral cause, or the sea of humanity. The importance of spiritual connection predates recorded history. Even the Neanderthals, those more primitive "cavemen" who were not our predominant ancestors, buried their dead in what appear to have been spiritual ceremonies.

The human ability to appreciate and be moved by the beauty of nature is a key element in overall value creation. We can admire nature and feel a part of it at the same time.

The appreciation of creativity in the form of art, literature, architecture, music, dance, furniture, jewelry, or anything created by another person expands the human spirit.

Feeling connected to a group of people or identifying with them, based on shared values, goals, or experiences, activates an innate sense of community. The human brain developed to its present form when we needed to live in tightly-knit communities to survive. The importance of community is seen in the high degree of communal contagion of emotions, which is a powerful, albeit unconscious force underlying social structure.

Value and the Meaning of Life
When people stop creating value, their lives lose meaning and purpose; they move closer to passive or deliberate suicide. At its most rudimentary, the drive to create value is the will to live. At its most advanced level, it's the will to live passionately.

Value and Authenticity
If you devalue more than you value, your life will seem bad and often unreal, even if a lot of good things happen to you. If you value more than you devalue, your life will seem good and authentic, even if a lot of bad things happen. At the end of the day, the only reliable method of sustaining a sense of authenticity is through the creation of value and consistent fidelity to the deepest values you create.