How to Boost Long-Term Happiness Through Values-Based Living

When we take the time to identify and align ourselves with our personal values, life becomes more fulfilling, more authentic, and more straight-forward.


Psychologists classify happiness into two distinct categories: hedonic happiness and eudaimonic happiness.

Whereas hedonic happiness is related to joy and pleasure, eudaimonic happiness is related to contentment and life satisfaction.

A common contributor to poor mental wellbeing is an imbalanced pursuit of pleasure vs contentment.

We’re surrounded by advertising messages encouraging us to pursue pleasure. We’re given the impression that goal-achievement is the ultimate path to happiness.

In reality, the happiness we derive from pleasure and goal-achievement is short-lived.

Long-lasting happiness is derived from cultivating contentment.


We define values as the things in our lives which elicit contentment.


They’re the features of our life that make it worth living.

The standards, principles, and morals around what we want in life and the type of person we'd like to be.

When we align ourselves with our values, we cultivate our sense of contentment—a sense of inner calm, fulfilment and satisfaction.

This is because values are what gives our life meaning, purpose and importance. And meaning, purpose and importance are innate human needs.

Contentment is a much subtler emotion than joy and pleasure; values-based living requires us to regularly practise tuning into our contentment levels and noticing what gives us the strongest sense of fulfilment.


What Contentment Feels Like

  • Feeling happy
  • Having a sense of inner peace
  • Having a sense of satisfaction
  • Feeling as though you're being authentic

What elicits contentment in one person may not elicit contentment in another, however, there are several areas which science suggests are fairly universal: human connection, nature, personal growth, making a difference, mindfulness, balance, autonomy, and security.


Signs You're Lacking in Contentment

  • Low mood
  • Feeling unfulfilled
  • A general sense of dissatisfaction
  • Feeling as though something isn't quite right
  • Feeling as though you're being inauthentic
 

3 Benefits of Values-Based Living


1. Boost Mood and Mental Resilience

“You are happiest when you have a balance between pleasure and purpose that works best for you.” – Paul Dolan
Studies show that people with a sense of meaning and purpose cope better with life’s challenges.

When we have a strong sense of our personal values, we gain perspective of what’s truly important in life. This helps reduce rumination and other forms of mental anxiety, keeping us aligned with what matters most, and helping us feel fulfilled.

Knowing our personal values also helps us build a wholesome self-identity—one that goes beyond attributes such as self-image, interests and status.

Think about it: we have an easy time telling people what we do and what we’re interested in, but a much harder time explaining who we are and what we truly value.

When we have a broader self-identity, one which encompasses our personal values, we don’t react so strongly to other people’s judgements because we have a stronger sense of who we truly are.



2. Easier Decision-Making

“Success in life means living by your values.” – Russ Harris
Making important life decisions is often a question of what our most important values are.

Having a strong sense of our values helps us answer questions such as:

  • Which career should I pursue?
  • Should I take this job?
  • Should I start my own business?
  • How should I spend my free time?
  • What do I want in a partner?
  • Should I stay in this relationship?
  • Where should I live?
  • What should I spend my money on?

Clearer values make for clearer decision making.



3. Improved Life Satisfaction

“The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are.” – Carl Jung
Bronnie Ware is a nurse who spent several years working in palliative care, caring for patients in the last three months of their lives.

“When questioned about any regrets they had or anything they would do differently," she said, "common themes surfaced again and again."

She describes these in her book The Top Five Regrets of the Dying. The most common regret she witnessed was this: “I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”

As Bronnie says, “When you are on your deathbed, what others think of you is a long way from your mind.”

The other regrets were:

  • I wish I hadn't worked so hard
  • I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings
  • I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends
  • I wish that I had let myself be happier
 

The Consequences of Unclear Values

Most people don’t invest the time to get to know themselves and their values on a deep level.

This can lead to people adopting passive values—the value systems of either society or the groups we socialise in.

This relates to the French philosopher Jean Paul Sartre’s idea of ‘bad faith’. He describes bad faith as the phenomenon in which we, when under pressure from external social forces, adopt false values and disown our innate freedom, hence acting inauthentically.

This form of self-deception may help prevent short-term suffering, but can seriously limit our potential for fulfillment.

Wealth and fame are common examples of passive values.

How do you think you’d feel if you just earned £2.5bn?

This happened to Markus Persson, creator of Minecraft, who sold his gaming company to Microsoft in 2014. And here’s what he bravely tweeted a year later:
Mental health services would be far less stretched if we were given the message to pursue quality human connection instead of wealth and fame.

Clearly, adopting passive values can be highly problematic.

It’s easy for us to get caught up in goals relating to society's values which we later realise don’t make us happy.
 

Summary

Taking the time to get to know our values helps us boost contentment levels.

When we're high in contentment, we feel:

  • Feeling happy
  • Having a sense of inner peace
  • Having a sense of satisfaction
  • Feeling as though you're being authentic

This approach is at the heart of acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), an effective treatment for depression and anxiety.

We're incredibly passionate about values-based living. That's why we feature a series of values-based exercises and self-reflective questions in our Happiness and Mindful Living Planner.

Take the time to explore your values and start living a more fulfilling, straight-forward, and authentic life.
The Happiness and Mindful Living Planner
 

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