"Live a good life, and in the end, it's not the years in the life, it's the life in the years."

Change of values, change to happiness

By on February 22, 2021 in Columnist with 0 Comments

‘’I don’t know what to do! I am as light as a feather, I am as happy as an angel, I am as merry as a school-boy. …. Whoop! Hallo!” 

— Scrooge, A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

By June Darling

Despite snarky politics, COVID-19 and its variation, March mud and muck; some people are happy most of the time. 

Researchers claim when all is said and done, it comes down to values. 

Values guide choices. They provide answers to our dilemmas. Should you take that job for more prestige and money? Move to L.A. to live with cool people? Join the Peace Corps and teach in Mexico?

Values are what we think is important for the good life like … money, fame and fortune or friendship and family. 

Our values are based on beliefs about what is bad, good; right, wrong; ugly, beautiful and what will make us happy or unhappy. 

Those beliefs and values come from our family, our friends, the places we live, the stuff we read, the experiences we have. 

I was raised in East Tennessee. As far as I could tell we all were scraping for a bit of power and prestige, but we could never act uppity. It was okay to go to college, even buy a Cadillac. Not okay to look down on the folks in the hollers. 

Can we judge others’ values? Can we say that some values are better than others? 

Researchers simply say that it seems that certain values lead to certain outcomes. 

If my values are all about me, what makes me look good, what builds my ego, then my life will be made up of some great days and some awful days. 

Unsurprisingly, my good days will be when I am winning first prize, getting what I want to make me look good. My bad days will be all those other days when I am losing. Those days will be filled with anger, jealousy, resentment and depression. 

Researchers refer to these types of values as self-enhancing. They lead to fluctuating happiness.

If my values are more oriented toward helping others — making a better world, moving toward harmony, understanding, connection, compassion, then I will be one of those people who feels happy for longer periods of time … even when things seem to be going to pot. 

Researchers label these type of values, self-transcendent or selfless. People who follow these values seem to have inner peace, a sense of plenty. These values appear to lead to authentic-durable happiness.

Now, I certainly have a lot of questions about all this. 

For example, can we have some self-enhancing values or even a lot of self-enhancing values and be sustainably happy if we have ways of dealing with negative emotions? 

And would it make sense to try to change our values — after all our values are our values. If we wanted to change our values, how would we do it?

Some guesses come to mind, but not solid research. 

It might be fun to let us all ponder our questions together for a while. We can take some time to examine the two paths, see how and when they seem to diverge and where they seem to lead. 

We can notice ourselves, our dilemmas, our values — try to figure out where they came from and if they might be ready for a make-over.

Maybe it is because I’m getting older, maybe it’s because of COVID-19, maybe it’s the pensiveness that pervades my brain as March blusters blow out the winter dark and cold to usher in the new life of spring; who knows, but I do feel a sense of … change.

I find myself reading obituaries a bit more carefully. I cannot help being impressed by the long ones with incredible accomplishments. I imagine what their day-to-day life was — what were their struggles? When were they happy?

Lately, a short obit comes to mind. After the required mention of dates, place of birth, and family members, followed one little sentence, “She always had a cup of coffee ready for anyone seeking company, conversation and consolation.” It touched me. 

March, this in-between-time of not winter, but not yet spring, is a great time for lattes, reading, thinking, noticing how our own and others’ values pop up …and imagining where they ultimately lead. 

We might consider the young science that supports the ancient wisdom on happiness. 

And, if we feel an urge to change toward more selfless values, toward authentic-durable happiness, and need a bit of inspiration, we can remember Scrooge in A Christmas Carol.

How might we take March to move up to The Good Life by examining values and where they seem to lead?

June Darling, Ph.D. can be contacted at drjunedarling1@gmail.com; website: www.summitgroupresources.com. Her bio and many of her books can be found at amazon.com/author/junedarling.

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