Don't worry about happiness; focus on core value.
Posted April 30, 2010
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.
The significance of value becomes clearer in behavioral language, used as a verb rather than a noun. To value someone or something is to hold that person or thing as important - above and beyond survival considerations - and worthy of appreciation, time, energy, and, if necessary, sacrifice. (See creating and experiencing value.) Valuing enhances the self. We become fuller persons when we love, connect, appreciate, improve, protect; we become more valuable as we create and maintain value.
Enhancing the Self vs. Inflating the Ego
Creating and maintaining value enhances the self by increasing the capacity 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 a hollow defense of a fragile ego if you need to look down on those you perceive to be less intelligent.
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, hard-working (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 hard-working, 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 was people inevitably regret not having done enough of later in life. On your death bed 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.
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.
Most people have a sense of basic humanity that motivates cooperative, altruistic, compassionate, and protective behavior. In adversity, it motivates 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 "cave men" who were not our predominant ancestors - buried their dead in what appear to have been religious 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.