Valuing values: Connecting with our values can improve well-being

"A value is a way of being or believing that we hold most important. Living into our values means that we do more than profess our values, we practice them." - Brene Brown, Dare to Lead.


Crystallising our most important values can give us a road map for how we navigate our world and can help us to have the confidence to stand up for the things we most believe in. It can help us to make better education and career choices, to make parenting decisions and to decide what political party to vote for. It can also help us to make day-to-day decisions whether it is how to deal with a difficult situation at work or even what groceries to buy or where to buy them.
Not being connected with our values can contribute to feeling lost, a lack of belonging and even depression or anxiety. If we aren’t tuned into our values, we can find ourselves in unsuitable jobs and relationships. It can also result in going along with decisions or situations without thinking about them. We then might feel unsatisfied with the situation, ourselves, or others as a result but we might not even understand why. That feeling might become familiar and over time it can contribute to a significant feeling of discombobulation.
Some people might not have given a thought to what their most deeply held values are. This would be understandable because this isn’t something we were encouraged to do at school (although it could be very useful if it was). Others may have given a fleeting thought to what their values are, but they may have struggled to work out what is most important, how to define their values or how to use them.

If you are amongst those who have spent a significant amount of time pondering the subject you may know that it can be interesting, illuminating and even life-changing. It is possible to talk about values with a counsellor, but you can also explore them on your own or even talk about the subject with friends.

Here are some steps that could help you define your values and practice them to help you live a more authentic, meaningful, and perhaps even more contented life.

  1. Understand the scope of values.
  2. Choose your two most important values.
  3. Consider times when you have practised your values.
  4. Consider times when you haven’t practised your values.
  5. Think about how you can live by your values more.

Let’s explore these concepts.

Understanding the scope of values

It can be difficult to appreciate the scope of, and impact, our values have on our lives until we stop and think about it. If it feels like there is a mismatch with a job or friendship, for instance, it could be that our values are so far removed from the organisation or person that it feels wrong. Perhaps it is easy to believe that the need to contemplate values is reserved for those operating in an ethical or moral capacity. This is not the case at all. Values have a bearing in most things we do.

Similarly, we may, through no fault of our own, have a limited idea of what values can be. For instance, we may have grown up in a family where patriotism and career are important, or we may have received messages that it is important for women to be caring. We may carry these values with us (and perhaps not even call them values) without realising there may be other things that are as important to us or perhaps even more important. It can be useful to broaden our idea of what values are and what they can include.

Did you know, for instance, that values can include things like the environment, nature, or sustainability? It can also include things like creativity, spirituality, and knowledge as well as notions around well-being such as physical fitness and nutrition. A helpful list of values can be found on the Brene Brown website. This is not an exhaustive list and it is possible there are other values that might be important to you.

Choose your two most important values 

It can be helpful to choose four or five values to start with and whittle them down. If you are using a list you can read it slowly and work out how you feel when you read each value. Say the words out loud if you want to and hear how they sound to you. Do you get a twang of recognition or a warm feeling? This could mean a value is important to you.

Something else that can be useful when working out what your key values are is working out which values feed into each other. My key values are respect and intuition. I had some trouble deciding between intuition and authenticity. I realised that I feel like I am more authentic if I use my intuition, hence I decided intuition was a key value, in part because it also leads to authenticity (this is the case for me, but it might not be the case for others).

Similarly, someone might choose spirituality over intuition because they feel that their spirituality means they are able to be intuitive. Likewise, some might decide that if they choose respect as one of their values, there is no need to also choose kindness as kindness flows from respect (or vice versa).

Consider times when you have practised your values

To see how aligned with your key values you are, think about times when your values have been present in your actions and words. For instance, you might decide that in a recent conflict at work, you embodied your key value of compassion. Similarly, if sustainability is important to you, you can be proud if you have recently stopped using single-use plastic or broken up with fast fashion.

It is important to look for consistency. For instance, if you show compassion at work but not within your family of origin, perhaps this is an area for development or, at the very least, exploration. Or when it comes to sustainability, for example, it is great that you have cut out single-use plastic but what about the fact that you drive, rather than walk, to the local shop each day?

Having said this, it is important to acknowledge that, as humans, we are never going to be perfect. With something like showing compassion, this can be very subjective and sometimes require trial and error. Similarly, if you generally practise sustainability but drive to the shop one day because there is a thunderstorm, this is not something to beat yourself up about!

Consider times when you haven’t practised your values

As mentioned, it isn’t helpful to beat ourselves up every time we don’t practice our values in the way we would have liked. However, it can be helpful to explore (without judgement) what you could have done differently, for instance, if you feel like you could have handled a conflict or a sensitive situation more effectively: you might decide you haven’t lived your value of equality because you looked down on someone so you think about how you could behave differently in the future. If you value teamwork, you may realise that you could have been a better team player if you’d consulted your colleague before changing their work.
An area many people struggle with is directing their key values towards themselves. You might be very good at showing kindness, compassion, or respect to others, for instance, but what about towards yourself? We can only go for so long only directing these values towards others. If they only go one way, you are likely to experience extreme burnout or you will begin to feel resentful.

Think about how you can live by your values more

Sometimes we can feel like we have lost our way in life because we are not living by values that are very important to us. For instance, if you have a job which doesn’t relate to your values, or even worse, if your job conflicts with your values this can cause depression, numbness, or anxiety. It isn’t always possible to change jobs immediately, however, you can take small steps towards living a more value-orientated life.

For example, if sustainability is important to you, you could start some green initiatives in your current company or if you would like to do something more creative for a living, you could start by joining a writing or art group. It is also important to remember that your values can live in your day-to-day interactions with people such as your interactions with friends and family, the way you communicate with your child’s school and how you spend your spare time.

Exploring values can appear time-consuming and tricky, however, as with many areas of self-development, there is no deadline, and we can treat it as an ongoing process. It can be difficult to start living and breathing our values to start with, but it gets easier over time, and it can have great benefits.

Our world is a complicated one in need of people who are aligned to strong values. You might also find this world easier to navigate if you use your key values as a guide.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

Share this article with a friend
Oxford, Oxfordshire, OX3
Written by Beth Roberts, Integrative Counsellor and EMDR Therapist MBACP (Accred).
Oxford, Oxfordshire, OX3

I am a fully accredited integrative counsellor and I work online and face to face (in Oxford). I work with a wide range of issues including trauma, depression and anxiety.

Show comments

Find a therapist dealing with Anxiety

All therapists are verified professionals

All therapists are verified professionals