How to Define and Live By Your Personal Values for a Happy Life

When we consider major topics like who we are and what we want to accomplish in life, we frequently consider personality traits and ambitions.

We try to figure out whether we’re an introvert or an extrovert if we’re amicable or not, and how many of our New Year’s resolutions we’ve completed.

We rarely consider our moral standards and how they shape our personalities and lives.

But what if I told you that our personal values existed long before goal-setting, Myers-Briggs personality testing, and self-awareness were popular methods for figuring out what makes us tick and how we may apply these insights to achieve success?

So, let’s dig further and explore how you may uncover your own guiding principles and apply them to improve your relationships, careers, and everything in between.

What are Personal Values?

Personal values are an element of the moral code that governs our activities and defines our identity. They are the things that we value, the things that affect our well-being and happiness.

Thinking in terms of your personality and habits is the simplest approach to express what personal values are. Your values eventually get integrated into your personality and a part of You.

Some of them are more universal rules of conduct—think of religion and the morality it instills in us. Then there are those values that each of us chooses to embrace, based on what we value in our lives and what we hope to achieve and become

. For example, I may place high importance on courtesy and politeness.

To give you an idea of some person values you may have, here is a good list:[1]

  • Authenticity
  • Achievement
  • Adventure
  • Beauty
  • Boldness
  • Compassion
  • Challenge
  • Curiosity
  • Determination
  • Fairness
  • Faith
  • Fame
  • Friendships
  • Happiness
  • Honesty
  • Kindness
  • Learning
  • Loyalty
  • Meaningful Work
  • Openness
  • Optimism
  • Pleasure
  • Popularity
  • Recognition
  • Respect
  • Self-Respect
  • Spirituality
  • Stability
  • Success
  • Status
  • Trustworthiness
  • Wealth
  • Wisdom

As you can imagine, the above can play out differently for each of us—there are varied combinations and priorities we use to adopt these. The end result? The writer and poet Robert Zend greatly put it:

“People have one thing in common: they are all different.”

There’s one more thing to keep in mind before we go into the So Whats and Hows of our moral standards. Values are often more or less evident to others and manifest themselves in our current acts, words, and behaviors, but they also shape the persons we aspire to be in the future.

Our personal values, in other words, are not only an extension of ourselves, but they also shape our personalities. They represent who we are and what we believe in.

Related: Best Personal Quality Traits That Will Help You Live A Better Life

Why Are Personal Values Important?

Why does it matter so much in the first place?

Personal values are the driving force behind our personalities and actions, and any attempt to reinvent ourselves must draw on our current moral ideals in order to give ourselves a better chance at a happier existence.

Knowing our moral values can help us in a variety of situations. It can aid in the discovery of our purpose, the facilitation of decision-making, the development of confidence, and the guidance of tough situations.

Here are a few more ways that understanding our own standards of conduct might help us change our lives.

Personal Values Help with Self-awareness

In recent years, self-awareness has received a lot of attention. Indeed, its benefits are indisputable. It has been linked to a variety of benefits, including improved personal growth and healthier relationships[2].

It enables us to make better decisions, communicate more effectively, advance in our careers, and be less likely to lie, cheat, or steal. [3]

Simply put, self-awareness is a valuable ability that we should all strive to develop.

Self-awareness is just a recognition of one’s own individuality. There is obviously merit in what the Greats have wisely taught us: Know Thyself, both personally and professionally.

How would you know what you want to do, what you are capable of, or how far you can push yourself if you have no idea who the person staring back at you is?

Understanding who we are begins with an understanding of what motivates us, what makes us tick, and what we value—in other words, recognizing our own values.

Related: What Does Self-Awareness Mean? (And How to Increase Yours)

Personal Values Influence Our Outcomes

But what do you do with all that self-awareness?
Coaches and gurus frequently advise that we should play to our strengths in order to succeed and achieve our goals.[4]
Instead of obsessing over our flaws, we can be happier and less miserable if we use our abilities. Of course, this presupposes that we already know what they are.

There’s another, equally significant reason why knowing who we are and what we value in life is beneficial. Yes, I’m referring to personal reinvention, self-improvement, life enhancement, and all the other recent buzzwords. It all comes down to change, though. Simply said, you can’t alter something you don’t understand. [5]

Personal reinvention usually refers to the development of new habits, behaviors, and ways of thinking, as well as the adoption of new personal values.

We must adjust our actions and think in order to change our outcomes and, ultimately, our life. To do so, we must prune out the frills and determine what is genuinely important.

How to Find and Nurture Your Personal Values

To discover exactly what your personal values are, there are questions and techniques you can use. Here is a handful to help you get started.

1. Ask “Who Am I Today?”

As adults, we all have a set of values (consciously or unconsciously chosen) that drive our activities and define who we are today.

Making a list of 10-15 values we feel we live by is an excellent place to start. Use the list I supplied at the start or look for a more detailed one online. Choose the ones that best represent you. Be truthful to yourself.

I propose doing the same practice with your family and friends to acquire a 360-degree view of yourself.

Show them the entire list and ask them to choose the values that they believe are most representative of your personality. Is there a match between the two lists?

The goal of this activity is to draw a realistic portrait of who you are. It is the starting point of the bigger pursuits of self-awareness, self-reinvention, and leading a more fulfilling life.

Related: Create a Clear Vision and a Strategy for Your Future

2. Prioritize Your Values

Not everything we value is produced equally in our minds. To put it another way, some values are more important to us than others. Your primary and secondary behaviors are determined by this.

For example, you may place high importance on family and profession, but we all know how difficult it is to strike a compromise. One is superior to the other in your mind. As a result, you will always take steps to advance what is most important to you.

Our current lives and the actions that guide them are organized around our values and the order in which they appear on our own list of rules of conduct.

Re-shuffle the list is one technique to change our results and draught a different version of ourselves. Put it at the top of your priority list if you want to spend more time with your family.

Keep a close eye on your list. It’s also a means to strengthen your sense of self. You can become so engrossed in the web of your busy daily routines that you lose sight of the most important person in your life: yourself.

Learn about yourself so you can appreciate yourself and avoid sabotaging your own attempts to improve the things you wish to change.

Related: Can Patriotism Be Compassionate?

3. Complete a Values Audit

The wonderful thing about personal values is that we all have a say and a choice in who we become as individuals.

That’s what the gurus usually preach: alter your life if you don’t like it.

Of course, saying it is easier than doing it.

An excellent place to start is with your values list, which should be rated by priority and re-evaluated on a regular basis—say, semi-annually or annually.

The things that are essential to us may change as our circumstances change. When you’re fresh out of college, for example, financial security may not be as important as it is for a married couple with children.

Read through your existing list on a regular basis and adjust it as appropriate. What you think is significant will guide your primary behaviors.

But there’s another side to this: the process of incorporating new values into our lives, embracing them, and making them a part of our existence.

Looking at the individuals we like and aspire to be like is one method to discover new ideas. What ideals do they live by? Pay attention to what they say and do. Are you able to imitate them?

Once you find a new guiding value you want to adopt, you must own it. As the popular author and entrepreneur Mark Manson write:

“So, here’s the catch: sitting around thinking about better values to have is nice. But nothing will solidify until you go out and embody that new value. Values are won and lost through life experience. Not through logic or feelings or even beliefs. They have to be lived and experienced to stick. This often takes courage.”[6]

Therefore, a value audit is an essential part of the process, both to re-examine our current priorities and to find new mountains to climb.

“If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.”

Change is part of the re-invention process.

Final Thoughts

Finally, our personal values serve as a moral compass for what to say, how to behave, how to treat ourselves and others, and how to make life decisions.

Knowing what matters to someone can help you provide a clear picture of their inner landscape, as well as dictate how you treat them, speak to them, appeal to them, or persuade them to follow your lead. It’s a useful piece of information to have. 

Research confirms this:

“Personal values reflect what people think and state about themselves. Understanding personal values mean understanding human behavior.”[7]

What we think to be important in our lives, like our personalities, is extremely subjective, complicated, and often even self-contradictory

. It’s also dynamic—it mostly follows our life path, but it can be influenced by the people we meet, the goals we establish, and the events that occur in our lives.

But it is ultimately what we believe in, our personal values, that shapes us as individuals.

You must identify what you value and where your priorities are if you want to create any kind of change.

That is the most reliable method of self-improvement.


  1. EnvatoTuts: What Are Your Personal Values? How to Define & Live by Them

2. Inc.: Why Self-Awareness Is Essential for Life and Work

3. Harvard Business Review: What Self-Awareness Really Is (and How to Cultivate It)

4. Scientific American: A Self-Improvement Secret: Work on Strengths

5. Psychology Today: Reinvent Yourself

6. Mark Manson: Personal Values: A Guide to Figuring Out Who You Are

7. Nature Human Behaviour: Personal Values in Human Life

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