By David Joel Miller.
What do you most want in your life?
What really matters in your life – getting clear about values.
What we do in life is driven by our values. If it matters to you then you will put the effort into making it happen.
The major reason so many people fail to reach their objectives in life is a failure to be clear on their values.
If you are chasing a dream because it matters to others but this is not what you really care about deep down inside your efforts at those critical moments will not be made with all your might.
A first step in having a happier life is to get very clear about your values.
What is really important to you?
Clients in crisis tell us they are confused. They don’t know what to do. Sometimes even a simple choice is overwhelming. This stems from unclear values. Last year I wrote a post about how we might help clarify values in a group setting titled “Clear Values.”
It can be helpful to work on defining values in a group. Friends or fellow group members can help with feedback. But if you don’t have those friends here is a suggestion for working on setting some values.
Take out a piece of paper. Do this, please. Thinking about it without writing it down will result in you forgetting things that should be on the list. After we are done you can destroy the list if you chose, but most people end up keeping this list for a very long time.
Make a list of as many things as you possibly can that are important to you. What would you like if you could have it all! Go wild and be creative. Try to avoid censoring these wants as they come. The point in brainstorming is to get as many ideas as possible.
Go ahead I can wait.
When I do this with clients they end up with lots of things. They want to be rich, have a good paying job, a great partner that loves them, lots of sex, a new car, a big house, all their bills paid, their health, happiness, a good relationship with their children, their faith or religion, self-respect, their sobriety, getting even with that Ex, and a vacation to Europe. See how this list can go?
Now with that list in hand look the list over again and if you can only have one thing on this list which one will it be?
Be careful with your choices. Having a lot of money is not the same thing as being able to buy the things you want. To buy that new big screen you may have to forgo money in the bank and to have the money in the bank then the vacation, or your child’s school activity may have to go.
Would you want to be rich if it cost you your children and your health? Would you take the car if it cost you your sobriety or yourself respect? Will you pick the great sex if it cost you ever having a partner that loves you?
I can’t tell you what you should pick; it is your life after all. What we do find when we limit people to one thing, most often that item they pick is an intangible like family, self-respect, freedom or their spiritual faith. If you grew up in poverty then having enough money may have another significance to you. Money is not the same thing as freedom from financial worry.
If you picked money, then your courses are simple. There are things you can do to make lots of money and you will do them even if it costs you family, friends, and self-respect. But if family is at the top, or spiritual faith, then this will influence your actions.
Finding happiness is like chasing a dog in the park. No matter how hard it is to catch that dog, if when you get him, he isn’t your dog, you will be disappointed.
At this point, some of you will be complaining. I made you choose between your family and your self-respect. How can you choose between happiness and sobriety? Do you really have to choose between someone who loves you and great sex? Don’t happiness and spiritual faith go together?
Yes, plenty of the time you can have two or three of these things. But sometimes you have to make a choice. You may have to choose between your partner, your family or your sobriety. You may need to choose between your self-respect and family. So if you had to choose, how you make that decision would really matter.
But let’s make it easier on you. Pick a second choice of things that really matter to you. What would go on your list in the second spot? Did that new car slip in right after your family?
Lastly, pick a third thing. Now you have a list of three things that are really important to you. Happiness for you will involve efforts to improve these three areas of your life. This third choice might well be a more selfish or materialist choice than the first two. That is OK. As long as you set your priorities you will know how to make decisions when it comes to that.
Now that you have a list of the three things that most matter to you, this should guide your search for happiness. Make sure all the things you do this year to increase your happiness are consistent with these values. Keep looking at these values, happiness will be found near them.
Values are not the goals of your life. You want good relationships with your kids. You may not get that. But values should guide your actions because if you reach a goal and it has taken you farther away from your values that will not be consistent with finding happiness.
Goals are about the paths you will travel, values are the way in which you will walk on those paths. In another post, we will talk about setting goals.
Just because we have identified values does not mean you will be able to instantly move to having a happy life. There are obstacles in your way. This journey takes a lifetime. So far we are working on packing a small travel bag to take with us on the journey. The list of values goes in our travel bag.
But be careful. There is still that huge trunk full of baggage from our unhappy past that is sitting by the door. All that stuff from the past will sure be a lot to carry on this happy life journey.
First, we will need some other tools for our travel kit and then we need to lighten that baggage.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia
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For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page. For information about my other writing work beyond this blog check out my Google+ page or the Facebook author’s page, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings, and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books
- Annual Happiness Drive – Please contribute some happiness (counselorssoapbox.com)