How The Right Values Help Increase Your Wellbeing

I’m a firm believer that jerks are not born; they are made the old-fashioned way—from the ground up, by adults who never outgrew their selfish behavior. Jerks are groomed by people who live by crappy values and tend to be awful human beings.

You know the ones I mean; people who tether their goals in life to money, greed, and power. They’re the ones who die bitter and pissed off that they can’t take their possessions with them.

If you’ve been a jerk in life, believe me, someone’s therapist knows all about you. While your words and actions may have negatively affected someone else, you’ve also hurt yourself in the process. Your mental health can be directly affected because wellbeing is the ability to handle upsets, disappointments, and adversity without throwing tantrums and blaming others because you didn’t get what you wanted.

You know, like politicians or royals who are spoiled and entitled. 

Psychological wellbeing means we are mature enough to look at a situation from another person’s point of view; unfortunately, we all know that’s not happening with great abundance. 

Make no mistake, if your gene pool looks a little weedy, there’s not a lot you can do about it. Science tells us that up to 50% of our psychological wellbeing is related to genetics, so if your parents are grumpy and a pain in the ass, you’ve got a good chance of inheriting that gem of a gene. 

Don’t be discouraged, however, because a significant portion of your wellbeing is influenced by factors that you can control. And, the place to start is with your values.

There was a time when values were a popular topic. In the 1950’s and 60’s people like Vicktor Frankl and Abraham Maslow wrote bestsellers: “Man’s Search For Meaning” and “Religion, Values, and Peak-Performance” respectively. 

Good values have taken a punch in the gut in the past thirty or so years. Remember Gordon Gekko in the movie, “Wall Street,” saying that “Greed is good…greed is a clean drive that captures the essence of the innovative spirit.”

Wow, did we take that advice to heart! Money, greed, and power are values worshipped by many people around the world. Poor values like these have led to financial meltdowns, the overthrow of governments, and the throw-away mentality that infuses today’s corporations—whether its their employees or their products. 

The result is a mess.

According to the latest Social Progress Index, a measure of health, safety and well-being around the world, ranked the United States #28. Even worse, the United States was one of only three countries, out of 163, that went backward in well-being over the last decade.

Crappy values in both our personal and professional lives have led to a mental health crisis that shows no signs of letting up. It’s important that we find ways to move beyond poor ethics and toxic attitudes because wellbeing reminds us that each life is an opportunity to experience joy, love, and meaning. 

Let’s take a look at how the right values help increase your wellbeing:

1. What Is A Value, Anyway?

Values have been debated for centuries. Those who are interested in good values are motivated to make the world a better place. They are concerned for the wellbeing of the world, not just themselves.

Values underlie our thoughts, emotions, and behavior. What they are and where they come from differs from one person to another. No matter our background, good values enhance our wellbeing and come from a sense of love and self-worth. Values that come from negative emotions like fear have a detrimental influence on our wellbeing.

When we pursue a value, specific areas of the brain are activated. Using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), researchers have found neural activity within different portions of the medial prefrontal cortex when people processed different values. 

Interestingly enough, people with different cultural values activate other parts of the brain. They may actually see the world in a different way.

How To Make It Work For You: Don’t be afraid to share and discuss your deepest values with family, friends, or the people with whom you work. When you discuss values openly, it helps to decrease interpersonal conflict. 

2. What If You Don’t Know Your Values?

I completed graduate studies at San Francisco Theological Seminary after I retired from the FBI. People were surprised and asked me how I reconciled chasing spies and terrorists to theological studies. My answer was easy: I spent my FBI career pulling back layers to get to the truth from the suspects I investigated; theology was much the same—I pulled back layers to get to the truth of who I am.

One of the most effective ways to do this was for the class to pair off and take turns asking each other: “What is your secret desire?”

At first the answers were easy—bigger house, better car, nicer vacations. Hey, this was fun! And then we’d ask the question of each other again…after the first fifteen minutes, the answers started to change. As we pulled back the layers, our answers stopped focusing on material things. Instead, words like contentment, joy, and love became our secret desire. And finally, self-love. 

Self-love was almost always the last, and yet most important, intrinsic value that most of us were able to identify. At this point, sadness mixed with hope settled upon the class because as much as we wanted to love others and be loved, we also wanted to love ourselves. 

Self-love is not thinking of ourselves more; it’s thinking more of ourselves.

How To Make It Work For You: The above exercise makes you extremely vulnerable to the person with whom you are sharing. It might be easier to start with a piece of paper and ask yourself this simple question: What is my secret desire? Keep at it until the answers become tough to identify because what is buried beneath is where you’ll find your deepest values.

3. What If Values Are In Conflict?

Many of us have values that are easy to identify: success, family, love, dignity, wealth, make a useful impact on the world, etc. There’s nothing wrong with any of these values. If we were to circle “family” and “make a useful impact on the world,” our first reaction would be “both are great values!”

However, if you become a lawyer or doctor and plan to make a useful impact on the world AND you want a good family life, would one value be sacrificed for the other one? 

These are real challenges for all of us. Is it more important to have little, accomplish even less, and to have a happy and relaxed lifestyle with your family? Or is it more important to work hard, use your skills, start a business, and make the world a better place?

There is no simple answer but this type of introspection can help people discover what is really important to them.

If others think you’re a God, that’s OK; if you think you’re a God, that makes you a jerk. 

In other words, it should never be all about you. Instead, it’s about how you can help the world become a bit better for having you in it. Become responsible for your own values; uncover them and own them. When you do, you no longer have to struggle to make the world conform to your needs. Instead, you adapt your own values to fit your circumstances in the world.

How To Make It Work For You: Make a list of your top 5 personal values. If possible, rank them in order of importance to you. Is there a potential conflict between one or more of your values? If so, think about how you can minimize the conflict when it hits you in the face.

4. Can The Wrong Values Produce Burnout?


Many people who enter the world of medicine do so for altruistic reasons; they genuinely want to make an impact on the world and help people. They are clear about their values, and they’re noble ones. 

All is well and good until they find themselves in an environment where the work-related values don’t match their own. Many of us have had to rationalize the values of our work environment when they don’t match our own, but in the health-care and medical communities, it happens more frequently. The result is emotional burnout.

Physician burnout is estimated to hover around 50 percent. A study of Canadian doctors could predict who would experience exhaustion and poor work performance by identifying the people whose personal values conflicted with the values of their work environment.

Burnout is a problem for all industries, not just health-care. Burnout and compassion fatigue tend to be higher in other professions that require continual interaction with people such as therapists, social workers, and teachers. 

Researchers agree that when management values match the values of their workers, greater job satisfaction is reported and fewer people quit. People have a deep desire and psychological need to integrate work and life values.

How To Make It Work For You: It’s important to identify your work values. Start by listing 15 values you feel are important to you at work. For the next few days, pare the list down to 5 (just as you did for your personal values in #3). You may want to add a value at some point and that’s OK but be sure to take one off. Once you’ve identified your top work values, it’s easier to see how or where you can fit into your work environment—or not. Make changes if you need to because burnout sucks you dry and leaves you for dead.

Related: The Best Leaders Know How To Be Vulnerable