Lately, your days feel like one big blur, or a series of too-many, not-so significant tasks. You feel like a robot going through the motions. Your days, or part of your days, feel empty or meaningless. Maybe you feel disconnected from yourself. Maybe you don’t feel anything. Maybe it feels like something is missing from your life, from your day to day.
What can help?
Carve out some time to explore your core values. Are you living them on a daily basis? Do you even know what they are? Are the values that were vital years ago, or months ago, to you still important?
In the book The New Happiness: Practices for Spiritual Growth and Living with Intention authors and psychologists Matthew McKay, Ph.D, and Jeffrey C. Wood, PsyD., feature a helpful chapter on identifying our values. They note that values are “directions,” such as “always trying to learn, or having a safe and nurturing home. Values are a compass point, a heading, a guide toward all that matters to you.”
McKay and Wood note that there are two main types of values: self-growth and service.
“Self-growth values are focused on how you develop and take care of yourself as a person.” This includes the domains: creativity, health, education/learning, recreation, self-compassion, and self-care.
“Service values focus on your relationship to other people and the world at large; they are about giving to, caring for, and supporting things outside yourself.” This includes the domains: family, social relationships, community, nature and the environment, people in need, animals, and public policy.
The authors include a worksheet for identifying your values, and then creating concrete, actionable steps. Because, as McKay and Wood emphasize, “Values by themselves won’t make an impact on your life unless you act on them.”
Essentially, they suggest jotting down the following: domains that are important to you; one key value that guides and influences your behavior in each specific domain (e.g., authenticity, adventure, ambition, curiosity, fun, empathy, serenity, simplicity, tradition); and one action you commit to taking.
Here’s an example from the book: In the family domain, you realize that your key value is cooperation. So you commit to speaking with your partner tonight about doing additional chores, so you’ll help out more, and your partner will feel less overwhelmed.
Maybe in the self-care domain, you realize that your key value is curiosity, so you commit to journaling every day for 10 minutes, and simply asking yourself how you’re doing—without judging or criticizing the answer that arises. And then maybe you commit to responding to that answer. I feel tired today, so instead of tackling those chores, I’m going to sit down and watch my favorite show. Or I’d like to find a new way to move my body, so I think I’ll check out a belly dancing class. Or I’m really sad today, and I’m going to sit with this sadness, and just feel it.
Be sure to revisit your list of values and intentional actions regularly. Add more actions you’d like to take, and reflect on whether this path still feels sincere to you, whether it still resonates, whether it aligns with your soul. Because even though our values reflect deeper personal truths, they do change. We change.
And that’s OK. After all, we are complex, and as we have different experiences, we evolve in different ways.
Living our lives according to our values gives us meaning, purpose, and fulfillment. It brings satisfaction and joy. It makes it easier to make good decisions—which are decisions that deeply support us and are based on what’s important to us. In other words, we have a clear idea of the opportunities, invitations, and activities that we’d like to say yes to and the ones we’d like to decline.
In short, living our lives according to our values is the ultimate way of caring for ourselves.
* Feeling empty and disconnected from yourself also might be signs of depression (or something else). So if connecting to your core values doesn’t help, consider seeing a therapist to get a thorough evaluation, and find out exactly what’s going on. Depression is highly treatable, and you’re absolutely not alone in struggling, or, with treatment, getting better.