(First of a series)

Can people live without values?

We often hear old folks complaining that the current generation “has no values” and that we are all somewhat doomed because of this decided lack of a values system. Well, personal opinions aside, this statement can never be technically true. Why? Because everyone has values.

Modern civilization would crumble in a matter of months if we didn’t have values systems in place. When someone says that someone “has no values” what that actually means is: “that person does not have the exact same values as I do.”

There’s a big difference between lacking values and subscribing to a different set of values.

How do values work?

A value is defined as “holding something in regard; also a measure of an object’s importance or usefulness.”

Our values occupy a much higher rung than beliefs. We can say that values dictate the formation of new beliefs and also determine the fate of old ones. Our values provide motivation for action as they provide a larger roadmap of what is right and wrong.

For example, if a person values friendship, he may have the belief that “one must always be helpful to good friends at all times.” The value precedes the belief and shapes it. When the belief is fully formed and comprehensible, our subconscious mind then uses it as a guidepost for future decision-making.

Like beliefs, values can spell the difference between a highly successful life and a life filled with unhappiness and setbacks. Your values determine not only your conscious thinking processes but also your general behavior.

Unlike beliefs, values are embedded much more deeply in the subconscious mind and it takes time to bring them to the mind’s surface in a form that can be expressed and understood clearly.

What does a values system look like?

Our values are often centered on the following life domains: family, friends, social union, companions, love and ultimately, happiness. If we were to create a ladder of values with the top rung as the pinnacle, family would be on the starting rung while happiness will occupy the topmost rung.

Each person can have more than one active values system in place. Values systems are also dynamic and they tend to change subconsciously if powerful new experiences are introduced. For example, a happy go lucky single man could suddenly reformulate his values system when his girlfriend gives birth to triplets.

What are means values and ends values?

Central values like “artistic expression” or “personal freedom” are often held up by supporting values like “stable employment” and “frugality.”

A means value allows a person to achieve ends values. Means values are not necessarily dependent on ends values, while ends values cannot be supported adequately without the existence of means values.

For example, if a person regards “personal freedom” as his most important value in life, he may hold beliefs like he should be able to travel anywhere he wants or that continuing education is a must for personal growth.

In order for such a person to follow his dreams and to follow his most important value in life, he must have means values to support it, like valuing continued employment or valuing the wise investment of money.

A value can also be classified as a “towards” value or “away from” value.

A normal individual would want a life that is fulfilling and full of happiness. Because we all typically have this singular desire for an ideal life, our values can also be categorized based on what it moves toward to or what it moves away from.

Here are some examples to help you understand why your own values are structured in a particular way:

Value: Regular physical exercise

Movement: Towards health

Value: Socializing with friends regularly

Movement: Away from loneliness

Value: Working long hours

Movement: Away from poverty

Value: Looking for a true love

Movement: Towards happiness

Value: Saving and investing money

Movement: Towards financial freedom

Not all values are equal. Like beliefs, our formations of values are dependent on life experiences (both positive and negative). However, when a value is stated in the “away from” structure, it often means that we subconsciously crated and subscribed to this value because of past trauma.

Any negatively influenced value will almost always have a detrimental effect on how you set out to accomplish goals associated with this value. So even if you have a positive intention for keeping a value such as “working long hours”, if the movement is “away from poverty” then the whole experience becomes charged with negative emotions.