You Can’t Buy Happiness, But Your Values Might

Money might not be able to buy you happiness, but research suggests that the values you choose might have just as much of an impact on your overall satisfaction with life. 

It’s important to examine your own values in order to know which aspects of your life are really worth focusing on, especially if you’re working toward a happier existence overall. This article is examining the connection between your personal values and your overall happiness in life.

Money might not be able to buy you happiness, but research suggests that the values you choose might have just as much of an impact on your overall satisfaction with life. 

Studies have shown that certain values are more strongly associated with happiness than others.  Suggesting that the way we choose to live our lives can have lasting implications for our emotional well-being. 

a pregnant woman holding flowers happy and aware of her personal values

What are Values?

Values are the principles we hold in high regard, both personally and professionally.  

The word values is often associated with a specific set of virtues, such as integrity or honesty. These professional values play an important role in shaping how you behave at work. And they may even have an impact on your overall sense of satisfaction with life.   

I guess you could say they help us determine what’s truly meaningful to us. 

But it doesn’t stop there. 

When you value something highly enough to live by it, it becomes ingrained in your sense of self and affects every decision you make. 

When it comes to our personal values, these personal “rules” also shape who we are as individuals.   They influence everything from whom we choose to associate with (or not), to what kind of food we eat (or don’t eat). 

How Do Personal Values Impact Your Behavior? 

The short answer, in many ways. 

But a deeper dive expands a bit more.

Values help define who you are and inspire behavior that reflects those core beliefs. So, if dishonesty has a high value for you, then stealing office supplies isn’t out of character. 

Contratily, if family time is most important, it will affect when and where you work, and how much time you spend working.

Why are values important?

Values are a way of measuring how much we care about something.  

When you pair that with happiness data, you end up with some pretty powerful insights into life. 

According to Gallup pollsters, approximately 70% of Americans claim they’re very happy or happy. But in reality it’s very unlikely that many of us are reaching our full potential in terms of overall well-being.   

If people don’t know what matters most to them, then they can’t truly measure their own happiness.  

This is because their ultimate well-being is affected by other factors—like whether or not their bank account has enough money in it for an upcoming mortgage payment.   No matter what you have or achieve, if there isn’t meaning behind it all then chances are high that at least part of you will never be content. 

Where Do Our Values Come From?

Our intrinsic (or innate) values come from our most cherished beliefs and traditions, instilled in us by our parents and close friends.  They are what make us who we are, influencing how we see ourselves, others and life itself. But some people feel lost when it comes to finding their own set of personal values. It’s not uncommon for people to try to mimic a friend or family member or even a famous public figure as a way of defining themselves; however you will never find true personal value if you base it on someone else’s actions.

Our social values come from all of our interactions with others over time. We’re not just influenced by people we’re closest to; we also absorb social and cultural norms from other people as well. When someone is praised for contributing to society or helping out a friend in need, they’ll feel motivated to continue that type of behavior because they want to gain recognition and respect.

Our political and moral values are usually taught to us as we grow up. We watch our parents interact with others and learn how they respond to different situations. This type of learning often occurs subconsciously. So we’re not always aware of how our actions are shaped by social norms. However it’s important to remember that where you come from may shape how you act in certain situations. As you grow older and into your own, your own personal values may differ from those you were exposed to growing up.

How Do Our Values Shape Our Actions?

When you value something highly enough to live by it, it becomes ingrained in your sense of self and affects every decision you make. 

If you have a certain goal or action in mind—whether it’s saving money or spending more time with friends—then ask yourself, “does that go against my core values?”

If it does go against one of your core values, then you’ll have to start asking yourself whether that’s really what you want. Or is there a way to change that value—either by reevaluating it or replacing it with something else?

See Also: Discovering Your Personal Set of Values Leads To Increased Self Awareness
anxious young woman cover her ears with hands sitting on chair unhappy because she needs to assess her values

What Happens When We Don’t Act in Line with Our Values?

Research has shown that people who consistently act in line with their values have more self-esteem and life satisfaction. Yet in day-to-day situations when we’re forced to make a choice between our values and well-being on one hand, and getting what we want or need on the other, it becomes very easy to choose short term benefits over long term well being.

This type of acting against our values is called value-inconsistent behavior. It is a good way to lose sight of what really matters in life. In other words, if you don’t live according to YOUR ideals, you won’t be as happy or fulfilled as when you do.

How can we live by our values in a shifting world?

It’s not enough to just be aware of your core values – you have to live by them. 

If you hope to create a life that is aligned with what you truly believe and care about, then you need to make sure you’re living in line with those beliefs. 

The best way to do that is through mindfulness and deliberate reflection. 

There’s a balance between living with intention and responding to what life throws at you.

People with strong personal values are less likely to experience stress, anxiety or depression than people who don’t spend time reflecting on what really matters most.

There’s a balance between living with intention and responding to what life throws at you. It’s not about pushing away change.  It’s about making sure that you act in line with your true core values even when chaos strikes. 

Mindfulness techniques help us stay in touch with our authentic selves. So, no matter how much life changes around you – or how busy you get – make sure that you carve out time to reflect on what truly matters most. And live by those values every day!

How do we know if our values are strong enough to guide us well?

Values are an essential part of any human life. They create meaning and have an impact on our well-being and overall quality of life. 

Our personal values are important because they help us interpret experiences and make sense of the world around us.

While these purposes are useful in helping us make decisions and live a meaningful life, they do not provide an actionable guide for daily living. How do we know if our chosen values will help us in achieving those things?

How we answer these questions is part of a larger discussion about our value system and how strong it is. When we have a weak value system that isn’t prioritized, we don’t have an accurate guide for decision-making. And therefore tend to make choices based on circumstance rather than principles. 

Over time, those choices start to define who we are as people and impact our overall quality of life. 

How do you know if your current personal values are strong enough to help guide you through life?   

Here are some steps that will help determine whether or not your values will lead you down a path towards overall well-being:

  1. Determine which elements of well-being matter most to you. While there are many elements of well-being such as physical health, social relationships, engagement in activities, life purpose, etc., all of them impact each other in one way or another.   Determining which elements are most important to you is key. This will help you determine what a happy and meaningful life looks like for you. 
  2. Define clear principles that guide your decisions based on those personal values. This will give weight and meaning to those guiding principles. Further helping identify areas where those principles need more specificity. In doing so, they can be put into actionable steps towards achieving overall well-being. 
  3. Identify what tradeoffs might exist between different personal values that influence daily decision making.   Sometimes we want or feel we need two things at once but either choice comes with a compromise. When our value system isn’t strong enough, it can create situations where we make choices without considering how else we could achieve that same outcome with less cost. As an example, you really want to go out with friends tonight but realize if you stay home instead, you’ll get additional work done. Which will improve your productivity at work next week (an important principle). 
  4. Take time every day to reflect on whether or not you are living according to your chosen principles. Are you doing what matters most? Are you prioritizing what is going to lead to overall well-being? Do you need to reevaluate any priorities? These reflections should be part of an ongoing process. Take time during scheduled events such as workouts, meditation, prayer/devotionals, etc.

Examples of Not Living by Your Personal Values 

  • Choosing jobs over their values.  Such as lawyers working in law firms that engage in practices contrary to what they believe is right.
  • Being with partners they are not compatible with. 
  • Being unable to leave a current career despite a desire to do so. 

People often feel trapped by a sense of obligation or fear of change into staying in unsatisfying situations that violate their values. 

In these cases, compromise and accommodation lead to feelings of being unfulfilled and disempowered in your life choices.

People with strong personal values are less likely to experience stress, anxiety or depression than people who don’t spend time reflecting on what really matters most.

Examples of Living by Your Personal Values 

  • People who have selected careers in which they find meaning and purpose. These individuals enjoy working toward a specific goal rather than simply earning money. 
  • Couples that manage to stay together for long periods of time . These relationships are based on trust, respect and overall compatibility between partners.
  • Parents who prioritize family time over work. Families that spend quality time together have been proven to have greater levels of satisfaction with their lives. They also experience better health outcomes and are less likely to divorce.
  • People who donate their time and money to charitable causes. It is shown that people who volunteer tend to be happier than people who don’t. The fact that they are giving back to their community also makes them feel like they are part of something bigger than themselves.

When you live by your values, life is more fulfilling and meaningful. This leads to a happier existence. 

You will be happier if you focus on living according to your personal values. That way, you know that you are doing what is right for yourself and others connected to you.   Sure, it can take time to find out what your true values are. But if you look inside and work hard at finding them, you will feel a sense of satisfaction with yourself that money cannot buy. 

Have high expectations for yourself; then live up to them by pursuing meaningful goals which support these expectations.

 So Where Does All Of This Leave You? 

Happiness can be difficult to achieve. According to a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, knowing your values can help you prioritize the things that matter most to you, giving you an added boost when pursuing happiness and overall life satisfaction.  

I’m not saying money doesn’t buy happiness (for some)—it’s just not worth working toward wealth if it doesn’t align with what you value. 

If you’re not making an effort to define and align your daily habits with what truly matters to you (and are instead focused on what others tell you is valuable), there’s a good chance you’re out of alignment. And therefore are not as happy as you want (or serve) to be.

When we are forced to reconcile competing extrinsic (or acquired) values—when they conflict with our intrinsic (or innate) ones—our well-being is at risk. 

And when our extrinsic aspirations are fulfilled, we are often left unsatisfied. 

But when you gain intrinsic satisfaction from a job well done—from making a difference in people’s lives or living out a long-held dream of yours—you are much more likely to be fulfilled, happy and set goals that align with your values.


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I’m TaKenya

I HELP WOMEN succeed in life and business

Fueled by equal parts oat milk lattes and passion alike, I spend my days coaching, building things, researching, and figuring out ways to help women change the world while finding, understanding, and loving themselves and their unique individuality.   

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