How to Find Long-Term Happiness through Your Values
Value-based decisions, despite sometimes being unpleasant in the short-term, lead to greater happiness.
Part of getting older is supposed to be about becoming wiser in our decision-making. The idea is that once you’ve lived long enough to experience the consequences of your decisions several times over, you’ll begin making the choices that provide the greatest long-term happiness. That’s what’s expected at least.
I do feel that I make better decisions now that I’m in my thirties. I’ve certainly matured a few levels during the last few years on this personal development journey.
So tell me why I reached into the upper limit of my budget when buying a car last year? I should have picked an affordable and economical car while using any extra cash to pay off my school loans sooner. Instead I selected a luxury sedan (entry-level but still on the pricey side) and now have monthly payments that take a good bite from my paycheck.
I knew in my gut that it was the wrong decision at the time. You probably know what I’m talking about. It’s that feeling you get when you really want to do something but know you shouldn’t. Like helping yourself to a second serving of ice cream or placing a large purchase on a credit card when you barely have enough cash in your bank account for living expenses.
We all make poor choices from time to time. It’s often the result of momentary feelings that get the better of us. The nagging voice inside our head that tells us not to do it, that’s our values trying to exert their influence. But value-based decisions are hard to make when we’re caught up in a particularly strong set of emotions, much to the detriment of our long-term happiness.
What are Values and Why are they Important to Happiness?
Simply put, values are our fundamental beliefs. They form the principle and standards by which we live by. They define what is most important to us. Values are things like: be responsible, do the right thing, place family first, and treat others with respect.
When I made the choice to buy the car that I did it was based on initial appeal. I thought about how nice it looked and how fun it would be to drive daily. I even imagined the compliments I would receive for owning it. These are the kind of benefits that disappear with familiarity. Instead I now have monthly reminders of how much I overspent.
This is a hangover we’ve all likely experienced because it shows up in all aspects of life. Choosing to go to college where the weather is nicest rather than picking the school with better academics. Skipping a family function because you’d rather go drinking with friends. Not answering the phone when you’re best friend is going through a rough breakup because you’ll be stuck talking to them for hours.
Spur-of-the-moment decisions, while providing instant satisfaction, can cause feelings of incongruity within yourself. Deep down inside you know when you’ve chosen incorrectly. Make enough of these choices and you’ll end up one miserable individual. It becomes easy to understand why value-based decisions, despite sometimes being unpleasant in the short-term, lead to greater happiness.
I get that none of us are perfect—certainly not me—but no one says we have to be. We’re going to make mistakes. The point is to learn from them and start getting wiser about what really matters to us.
What if You Don’t Know Your Own Values?
Many people never consider their values, and if they do, they struggle to define them, so they act with no concept of what’s important to them. Everything becomes about their feelings from one moment to next. If this is something you struggle with then now’s a good time to make an assessment of your values.
The often asked question, “What things would you like to be remembered for once you’ve passed?” really does provide insight into what you should be prioritizing in your life. It’s unlikely you’ll answer, “My Instagram page” or “The number of pair of shoes in my closet.” More likely you’ll reply with something about family, charity, friendship, or a particular career. If this question doesn’t work you can try taking an online assessment to help determine your values.
Knowing what really matters to you, do you think all the major decisions you’ve made in the past year were right? Would you change any of them? Maybe, maybe not. I’m not sure if I would go back and select a different car, but that’s not the point. The point is to understand the long-term impact of our decisions and start making more of the good ones. In doing this we can start creating long-term happiness for ourselves.
Ready to join the Journey?