What Are Values?

Values are something that as human beings we all regularly interact with or utilize to guide our decision making and actions. Our Values can often be influenced by our family of origin, culture, spirituality, and life experiences. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy referred to as ACT defines values as “verbally constructed, global, desired, and chosen life directions” (Dahl, Wilson, Luciano, & Hayes, 2005, p.61). In this context the intended goal is not to identify a set of values that applies to everyone but to aid in the construction of an individual’s meaningful experiences and actions.

Values may seem like something that is obvious at first however when we dive into it many of us can find ourselves stumped when we think “what values guide my actions and direction in life?” ACT posits that asking the question “In a world where you could choose to have your life be about something, what would choose?” (Wilson & Murrell, 2004, p. 135) is a helpful tool for aiding others and ourselves in defining what purpose we want to serve in life.

Why Are Values Important for Mental Health

Identification and development of values are critical for goal setting in our lives. When we have a set of values and a direction we are looking towards in life it helps us to set attainable and congruent goals for ourselves. To move through life directionless can often feel like an old ship on the ocean with no destination, being blown from one direction to the other based only on the purposeless shifting of the wind. The absence of meaning and or individual guidelines to strive for can lead to feelings of stagnation and behavior that feels incongruent. Values also help to provide a greater sense of agency in our lives, to use the boat analogy again, if we were to be blown around directionless in the middle of the ocean, we may feel very powerless and out of control. However, if we decide a course we wish to sail to and determine how we will be setting our sails to utilize the wind to our goal it makes our setting of the sails meaningful, it turns the directionless wind into a useful tool to be utilized towards where we identify a meaningful course. In this sense values aid us in promoting our free will, the impact and importance of our choices, and ultimately promoting motivation and movement throughout our lives.

If any of these ideas interest you or speak to your experience, I recommend looking into ACT or any of the references listed on the works cited page to continue your exploration of this helpful way of approaching life.

Dahl, J.C., Wilson, K.G., Luciano, C., & Hayes, S.C. (2005). Acceptance and commitment therapy  for chonic pain. Oakland, CA: Harbinger

Wilson, K.G., & Murrel, A. R. (2004). Values work in acceptance and commitment therapy. In S.C. Hayes, V.M Follette, & M.M Linehan (Eds), Mindfulness and acceptance: Expanding the cognitive behavioral tradition (pp.120-151). New York: Guilford

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