December 15, 2023  by Linda Wattier
December 15, 2023  by Linda Wattier

When did you last think about what you value most in life?

We’ve been focusing on purposeful living here at How She Thrives lately—and research shows that recognizing and living according to your values creates a richer sense of purpose.

Also, it turns out that one of the best ways to significantly reduce stress is to spend time defining and aligning your life with your deepest core values.

Your core values are what you are naturally inclined to do, are drawn toward, or are eager for without effort or even goal setting.

The Authentic, Evolving You

For example, I am naturally empathetic. It’s always been easy for me to respond compassionately toward people, animals, and the natural world.

I don’t have to make myself feel or act with empathy and compassion – I just do. And I find it excruciating to witness inhumanity or meanness. Compassion is a core value that’s been with me all my life.

Sadly, I spent the first half of my life people-pleasing and trying to fit in. It wasn’t until my mid-40s that I started to look within and understand myself better. That was when I learned about value clarification, and authenticity became important. So, authenticity has been one of my core values for about 20 years.

Some people are natural explorers. They loved roaming as youngsters and still love to travel as adults. They don’t have to make themselves want to travel – they just do. And doing so is profoundly satisfying to them.

Others are natural inventors. They enjoy using their imagination to conceive and build an original design to meet a perceived need. They don’t force themselves to do this – it’s a natural inclination. Curiosity and perseverance might be two of their values.

So, your core values are ideals specific to you that guide you toward your best life. And they tend to change over time based on your experiences. What mattered to you in high school is likely different from what you value most in retirement. This is why it’s crucial to revisit personal values, especially during times of transition. 

The Lifelong Benefits of Defining Your Values

Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D., is a psychologist, author, and lecturer at Stanford University, known for translating insights from psychology and neuroscience into practical strategies that support wellbeing. In her book, The Upside of Stress, McGonigal writes:

It turns out that writing about your values is one of the most effective psychological interventions ever studied. In the short term, writing about personal values makes people feel more powerful, in control, proud, and strong. It also makes them feel more loving, connected, and empathetic toward others. It increases pain tolerance, enhances self-control, and reduces unhelpful rumination after a stressful experience.

In the long term, writing about values has been shown to boost GPAs, reduce doctor visits, improve mental health, and help with everything from weight loss to quitting smoking and reducing drinking. It helps people persevere in the face of discrimination and reduces self-handicapping. In many cases, these benefits are a result of a one-time mindset intervention. People who write about their values once, for ten minutes, show benefits months or even years later.

— Professor Kelly McGonigal —

Stanford University

You can start by thinking about past experiences that have consistently brought you a sense of meaning, fulfillment, and joy. Reflect on the choices, actions, and relationships that have made you feel like you were living fully as your authentic self.

Some Questions to Help You Get Going

  • What’s something you did or were attracted to when you were eight years old that still draws you today?
  • What about the state of the world causes you real pain or heartache?
  • What would you do to make the world better if you had the chance to make a huge difference?
  • What’s one thing you dream about doing that you’ve never told anyone?
  • Where have you invested the best of your time, money, and energy? Why?
  • What do you take the most pride in, and why?
  • What makes you feel fully alive when you are doing it, and why?
  • What has been the most satisfying thing you’ve ever done, and what made it so fulfilling?
  • What would you most regret not having done at the end of your life?

You might also find it helpful to view a list of values you can choose from—I know I did. In her book Dare to Lead, author and teacher Brené Brown created a value list that is one of the better ones I’ve encountered. You can download a copy here.

Once you’ve chosen ten values, it is recommended that you compare them two at a time and eliminate at least half to come up with the final five. Brené recommends reducing your list down to only two. Many people find that too difficult, including myself. I have found that five works well for me.

My top five right now are Authenticity, Creativity, Holy Love, Wisdom, and Zest for Life.

Once you’ve identified your top five values, define each one in your own words. It could be bullet points, words or phrases, or a paragraph.

Writing down your definition helps solidify each value’s meaning and reminds you to align with them when making difficult decisions.

Aligning with your values simplifies everything and leads to inner integrity and a sense of completeness. As a result, you find the inner strength and spaciousness needed to lead life calmly and confidently, no matter what is sent your way.

Without clear values, your life is like a sailboat without a wheel to steer by, tossed around by changing tides and winds. In a world that often feels chaotic and directionless, well-defined values provide clarity, motivation, purpose, and a sense of true belonging.

[Please note: This is the third article in the Women Doing Life on Purpose series. you can read the first one here and the second here.]

Reconnect With Your Zest for Life

If you can lift yourself out of a rut, you can reduce symptoms of depression, lower levels of distress and pain, and improve resilience. Here are some good ideas and steps you can take to bring zest back into your life.

9 Ways to Feel More Alive — at Any Age | Shondaland

The New Science of Women's Brain Health

Most of what we know about health and disease centers on the male body. Neuroscientists overlook aspects of the human condition relevant to half of the global population (e.g. the menstrual cycle, the pill, pregnancy, menopause).

The Bowers WBHI is driven by a radically simple idea: progress in neuroscience will flourish when the health of men and women are valued equally.

The Ann S. Bowers Women's Brain Health Initiative

But Wait, There's More

The second half of our life can be even richer and more rewarding than the first half. The key lies in moving from one kind of strength to another. 

A Vision for the Second Half of Life | Next Avenue

Going Home for the Holidays? How to Tell if Your Parents Need Help

When you have older parents, things change. Which is why holiday visits are an ideal time to take stock of how your parents are doing at home — even if they’ve been telling you everything is fine.

Read some excellent tips about what to look for and classic warning signs your parents need help.

My Aging Parents | Free newsletter

Little Bits of Light

Words to open your heart and SOOTHE YOUR SOUL

Photos by: Alexander Nikiforov, DepositPhotos (#1)  & Linda Wattier (#2)

About Linda Wattier

Founder and Bold Wellbeing Coach at How She Thrives. I help women over fifty design their most authentic, meaningful, and fulfilling experience of midlife and beyond.

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