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#143 Identifying Ultimate Family Values

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What is it you want most out of life? How do you want to go about achieving what you want most? These two questions determine a lot about the way we spend our time and, most importantly for this discussion, the way we build our family. Way back in 1973 psychologist Milton Rokeach wrote a book called The Nature of Human Values (New York, The Free Press.) He talked about two types of values: Terminal and Instrumental. Terminal values describe the goals we are striving to reach and instrumental values depict how it is that we get there. It makes sense to me: the “what” and the “how.”
But before we begin identifying our values however I think it is important to remember how tough it is to reach them. For instance, when we were raising our family I always wanted a clean and orderly house but I didn’t know how to get it. Looking back though I can tell you what went wrong: I wasn’t willing to spend three hours a day cleaning things up! Furthermore I would have enjoyed serving tasty and nutritious meals. But I also wasn’t prepared to spend hours shopping, chopping and not slopping my way through the dinner hour. So before we look at the list of 18 values proposed by Dr. Rokeach we need to keep in mind that the process of getting there will be what makes the values a reality.
For me the exercise—that is, looking at the list of values and putting them in order of priority—gave me a whole different perspective on my life. For example, I have always had a strong sense of accomplishment. I have wanted to make a lasting contribution. A Sense of Accomplishment is one of the values but I found that I couldn’t place it first. I gave highest priority to Inner Harmony which refers to a freedom from inner conflict. That is where I have placed an enormous amount of time and resources. My second highest value was one of True Friendship. I took it to mean a close companionship with my husband and sons, family members and close friends. So then I could see that in fact my energy has been placed on those values that I prize most highly and I can understand why my accomplishments have not been as great as I might have wished. Identifying values is important; not only for how we want to structure our lives, but also for understanding how we are living right now.
So next week I will list the 18 terminal values identified by Dr. Rokeach. He called them terminal values. “Terminal” is an unfortunate word choice since we often associate it with a terminal illness. So let’s call them ultimate goals. It implies that they are an endpoint toward which we are striving. The task is to look at the 18 values and place them in order of priority according to how much each represents a guiding principle in your life. For our purposes it will also include the focus of your family. For example if A World at Peace is your highest value, how much of your family’s resources are you willing to devote to that value?

#143 Identifying Ultimate Family Values

Ellen Toronto, Ph.D.

Dr. Ellen Toronto is a licensed clinical psychologist/psychoanalyst in the state of Michigan.

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APA Reference
Toronto, E. (2015). #143 Identifying Ultimate Family Values. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 5, 2020, from


Last updated: 31 Mar 2015
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