A I pointed out in Part 2, if you want to be happy, pursuing your values will be more effective than pursuing happiness. First you have to identify your personal values. The method I recommend for identifying your personal values is to notice how your values are reflected in the activities you choose. For example:
• If you feel irritated when a doctor or nurse tells you you’ll never recover—this signals that you value hope. On the other hand, if you feel irritated if a doctor or nurse tells you that you’ll be fine after you’ve just been diagnosed with a stage IV cancer, this reveals that you value authenticity.
• If you feel warm and satisfied after providing needed support, hope, or active listening for other people dealing with a disease or condition you have managed to live well with, this shows that you value serving others.
• If you suffer from self-criticism, it means you value acceptance.
• If you feel better after offering your heartfelt thanks to someone, you value gratitude.
• If you admire people who are very much in control of their lives despite living with a degenerative condition, you probably value the sense of being in control of your own life.
• If you practice mindfulness meditation or some other form of mindfulness, one of your values is presence, or living in full contact with the present moment.
• If you look for opportunities to share information and emotional support with others who know from personal experience what it’s like to live with chronic health challenges, social support is one of your values.
• If you are someone who likes to look for the humor in a situation, you value laughter and a lighthearted approach to life.
I offer these particular examples of values because they line up with the behaviors that have been most strongly associated with health and well-being. However, there are many more personal life values that people hold dear. The following list contains some of them. You might consider posting this list in a place where you will see it frequently. Then observe your emotional experience throughout the day and note when your responses seem to point your attention in the direction of one of these qualities.
Feel free to add to the following list as you identify other values that are important to you—this is by no means an exhaustive list. Acceptance, appreciation, a sense of belonging, care, health care, self-care , connection, cooperation, effective interpersonal communication, a sense of community, companionship, empathy, health, inclusion, intimacy, love, trust, honesty, authenticity, integrity, presence, equality, order, autonomy, choice, independence, challenge, and hope.
One of the people who understood the connection between living our values and our state of health was Norman cousins, who said: “What a person does or thinks can affect the kinds of prescriptions written for the body by the brain.”