Create a Better World for Yourself and Others:
Part 1: Values Satisfaction and BalanceTom G. Stevens PhD
Psychologist/Professor Emeritus, California State University, Long Beach
Send Feedback/Questions to: Tom.Stevens@csulb.edu
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9, Part 1, from You Can Choose To Be Happy, Tom G. Stevens
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Satisfaction of values--a key to your happiness
FEELING IN CONTROL OF OUR LIVES versus FEELING HELPLESS
George owns a thriving business and has lots of money. Yet, he feels that his life is out of control and feels helpless to do anything about it. Happiness has eluded him and life seems to have little meaning. He has this feeling of powerlessness despite years of being the boss, having others respect him, and having so much business and financial success.
On the other hand, Josie Fullerton is 92 years old and lives in a retirement home. She has little money or other signs of power or influence. Yet Josie is happy, exudes warmth and joy, and says that she has everything she needs. She is grateful for all she has and feels at peace with the world. How can it be that George, with so much external power and resources, can feel helpless, while Josie, with so little external power and resources, can feel so much control?
Feeling in control depends on control of values and emotions. The reason for this paradox is that the overall feeling of control is not necessarily related to how much actual external power we have; it is more related to how much control we have over our emotions and the satisfaction of our values. Even though George owns a business and makes a lot of money, he does not enjoy his work, does not find it challenging, and does not feel he is contributing adequately to society. Important values are not being satisfied, and he feels powerless to do anything about it. He's an unhappy man.
George even feels trapped by his money and success, because he thinks he could not change a career that has brought him so much financial success. In addition, George is not happy in his marriage and has little time for recreation or other interests that contribute to his happiness. In short, instead of his business being an asset to his happiness, he lets his business control him.
This is another example of choosing an ultimate concern (business success) which undermined happiness. If we want to be happy, then we must give happiness priority over lesser things.
On the other hand, Josie puts happiness first. She loves to read, visit with people, play bridge, knit, do hospital volunteer work, travel, and appreciate beauty of all sorts. Josie loves to learn and help others. She had a philosophy of life that helped her have a positive way of viewing the world. Josie's sense of control in her life was based on her confidence that she could make herself happy--even after losing her lifetime partner of more than 64 years. Josie was recently elected president of her retirement association. When I asked her what the secret to her longevity was she said, "Being happy. Happy people live longer!" Research evidence supports Josie's contention.
CHANGING OUR ACTIONS AND ENVIRONMENTS TO FIND HAPPINESS
In past chapters we have seen that we can choose to be happy by choosing many internal routes to happiness such as developing our Higher Selves, world views, and self-esteem. We have learned about how to get more internal control and get more mental control of emotions so that we will spend more time in the zone of harmonious functioning.
In this chapter, the focus is on external routes to happiness. How can you find the physical and social environments that make you happiest? How can you achieve your goals? How can you have a significant impact on the world? The O-PATSM system has helped many people achieve more control of their lives.
I assume that goals of good time management are to maximize our time feeling happy and to maximize our positive impact. To maximize our happiness and productivity, we need to become conscious of both our values (that underlie happiness) and our habits (that create our impact). Our values serve as our beacons and our habits as our ships to take us where we want to go.
Have you ever been driving down the freeway and suddenly realized that for the past 5 miles you have been totally unaware of your driving? Scary isn't it? Did you wonder how you drove so far without having an accident? This is an example of how powerful automatic habits can be.
Much of what we do in a typical day is fairly automatic. Much of our behavior could almost be described as a series of stimulus-response types of interactions with our environment.
Think about a typical day and how many automatic habits you have. The first stimulus is the alarm clock. That clock may stimulate thoughts of work and a programmed routine of getting dressed and eating breakfast. At work, you have a whole series of automated work habits--including interpersonal habits such as automated greetings. Most of these situations take little conscious thought and problem-solving.
Automatic habits tend to continue as long as they minimally satisfy our values. Habits become habits because they are reinforced by meeting our values at some minimal level. We develop habits of eating breakfast and kissing our loved ones because these habits are reinforced by satisfying important values. We get up in the morning and get to work on time so that we will avoid the punishment of embarrassment and eventually being fired. The fear of these consequences may be part of what creates our anxiety as we weave in and out of traffic desperately trying to beat the clock.
The executive self creates automatic habits to increase efficiency. When I first learned to type, the process was painstaking. I had to look at a book above the typewriter and consciously calculate hitting each key. Yet, now as I type these words I just think the word and my fingers automatically type them on the screen. What a miracle!
That miracle is my cognitive brain programming the habits in the automatic habit brain. Once the habits are programmed, they are remembered forever.
Habits are automated, efficient routines to meet our values. Imagine how complex life would be if we did not have an automatic route to work. What if every day we had to read a map and plot the route to work? What if we had to carefully ponder everything we said to people? With automatic habits we just push an internal button and a programmed sequence of thoughts or behaviors emerge. They perform tasks to satisfy our values.
Too much routine can cause boredom and depression. If our lives become too programmed or routine, they may become stagnant, boring, and depressing. To spend more time in the zone of harmonious functioning (happy), we need to optimize challenge, change, and complexity (chapter 7).
There is another problem with becoming too programmed. Recall that habits may continue as long as they meet a minimal level of satisfaction. Perhaps our values are being met minimally, but we could be a lot happier. To maximize our happiness, we need to use the conscious part of our brain--our inner executive (and Higher Self). We need a system like O-PATSM to consciously make sure we are getting our values met.
For example, Gloria was an divorced college student and mother. She was busy and was accomplishing a lot. During a typical day, she attended classes and then went to work. After work, she picked up her two children, attended to them, and studied every free minute before bed. On weekends she did her chores, was a mother, studied, and worked.
The habits she developed were efficient for meeting her basic goals. She wanted to be a good mother, get her college degree, and be able to provide a minimal standard of living for herself and her children. She was meeting all these goals and was pleased with herself. Her accomplishments had been a big confidence booster.
So what is wrong with this picture? What is wrong is that Gloria could have been happier than meeting her minimal basic goals. Gloria said, "I'm so busy doing the things I need to do that I never take 5 minutes for myself to think about being happier." Even though she was busy--she spent a lot of time daydreaming, worrying, or working slowly. Her mild depression from so many unsatisfied values had reduced her energy and efficiency. She had even begun to resent her children. She felt trapped.
The O-PATSM system helped Gloria get conscious control of her life. Gloria took my self-management workshop because she wondered if she could be happier. Once Gloria used the O-PATSM self-management system for awhile, she realized she could still meet her basic goals and enjoy life a lot more.
Following the O-PATSM system, Gloria listed her basic values and 6-month objectives in each life area. The values and objectives she listed reflected several higher and more fun values she had been ignoring. She held weekly self-management sessions to consciously plan and prioritize her to-do lists for the following week. The to-do priorities were based upon her values and objectives checklists.
Getting life in balance. Finally, she used her to-do lists moment-to-moment to remind her of the little extra things she had been omitting from her life. These little extras added joy where there had been little. These extras included time to herself, nature walks, pleasure reading, aerobic dancing, calling friends, attending social events, and dating. As a result of feeling happier, she became more efficient doing everything from housework to homework. Gloria learned how to spend more of her time doing what she wanted--she was happier and more productive.
BALANCE VALUE SATISFACTION
TO ACHIEVE INNER HARMONY--
When an automobile wheel is out of balance, it shakes the entire car. If one value is not getting met, it can shake our inner harmony. Knowing that we are not caring for ourselves, knowing that we are hurting others, or knowing that we are not providing for our future can create serious disharmony and anxiety. Our research with the Life Skills Questionnaire found a correlation of .50 between life area balance and overall happiness the past three years.
I will never forget the man in his early 50's who approached me after one of my first self-management workshops. He told me that he owned an accounting firm. He said that he had gotten a great deal out of my workshop, but that I would never believe his story about what he had learned.
He said, "I have used O-PATSM-like principles for over 20 years in my business, and these principles are responsible for my success. The reason I took your self-management workshop was because my personal life has not been successful. The strange thing is that, in all these years, it never occurred to me to use the same principles that worked so well in business to manage my personal life. Now I can see why I haven't been happy." He gave the example of his social life. He said that he had no real friends--only business contacts. He had always left the social planning to his wife, so their friends were really her friends. The O-PATSM system helped him get control.
For a balanced life, I value each area of my life. If we want to be happy in each area of our lives, we must take conscious control of each area of our lives. We will each have a list of life areas that works best for us. A sample list of life areas might include some (or all) of the following. Make your own list now.
BALANCE BETWEEN PRESENT AND FUTURE SATISFACTION OF VALUES
What do terms like ego strength, will power, and self-discipline all have in common? They usually refer to some sort of inner strength that allows a person to work toward distant future goals, even though the person has to endure pain or give up pleasure now in order to reach that goal.
Every major religion, many philosophers, and most psychologists have recognized the importance of will power for achieving distant goals. The psychologist Dr. David McClelland (1991, 1961) is renowned for his decades long study of achievement motivation for individuals and societies. He found that societies espousing values related to postponing immediate enjoyment for future benefits and other achievement values tend to achieve more.
If we want our personal worlds to be more like our ideals, then we must invest energy now into creating that world. We can save money to buy a car or house instead of spending it for fun now. We can go to college to have the career and benefits we want instead of getting a job and having more money now. Investing in the future has many great advantages. Many people have not learned the lesson of delaying pleasures for future benefits. If you are one, perhaps too little focus on the future is why you are in a mess now.
Other people invest so much effort toward future goals that they undermine their own efforts. For example, some students spend so much time working, taking care of others, going to school, and not taking care of current values that they burn out and quit. If they had balanced future happiness with current happiness better, they would not have lost motivation and eventually would have reached their goals.
A second danger of becoming too future-oriented is developing this future orientation into a lifestyle. These people live their entire lives working toward the future--feeling unhappy and deprived. They may overvalue frugality, self-discipline, or self-sacrifice. These habits should be means to happiness, not ends in themselves. These people may never reap the harvest from their work. Instead, the only benefits they may reap are of being a martyr or feeling superior to others who enjoy life. Not much compensation!
Other people are able to give a disproportionate amount of energy for limited amounts of time--if they can motivate themselves to keep going. For example I knew of one student who worked 40 hours per week, spent almost 40 hours per week on schoolwork, and commuted over 10 hours per week. He was saving money toward buying a house. He did this for almost 6 years. He said that he averaged sleeping about 4 hours each night.
He was mildly depressed much of the time. I helped him clarify that he was choosing to remain less happy, because he was denying many of his important values and parts of himself for so long.
PRACTICE: Look at the balance in your life between investing in the present and investing in the future. In what areas are you giving too little attention to future needs and values? In what areas are you giving too little attention to current needs and values?
I assume that at least one of your ultimate concerns (top goals) is to be happy. We have seen how the satisfaction of values is necessary for happiness. These values range from basic biological values such as food and sex to higher values such as Maslow's meta-values (beauty, truth, wholeness, etc.).
Use your values checklist for making decisions and planning your time. If you want to consciously oversee that your values are being satisfied, first clarify what your important values are. Use your values checklist for every important decision--including career decisions, relationships decisions, and activity decisions. Choose the alternative you think will maximize the overall satisfaction of your values.
Values can be hidden from our normal awareness. Our values are our enduring, undelying needs and wants. When I ask you to list your values, you probably won't list them all, because values are more hidden from consciousness that immediate goals.
Values can be on different levels. Value is a term that can be applied to many different levels of objects and activities. For example I value playing tennis. Tennis is a specific, concrete lower level value activity. It is easy to be aware that we like a specific activity such as tennis. My higher level, more general values that make tennis so important include physical activity, health, socializing, learning, and being outdoors.
Believing that we can always create alternative routes to happiness increases our self-confidence. What happens when an important relationship suddenly ends? We normally feel a great sense of loss and grief, because important values which have been getting satisfied are suddenly not being satisfied. The extreme anxiety and depression people feel after such a loss is a problem common to many of my clients. How can they be happy again?
To overcome a loss,
The first step is to identify the values that were being satisfied by the lost person, object, or activity. Common values include companionship, communication, understanding, caring, sex, financial help, emotional support, doing chores, taking care of business affairs, or many others. We can become so dependent on someone else for satisfying these values that we may come to falsely believe that we cannot get these values met without that person. We do not realize what inner powers we already have and can develop for getting these values met ourselves (or with different people's help).
Once we realize that there are many routes to happiness--many ways we can meet our underlying values--then we instantly have a greater sense of inner strength and power.
How we can discover these hidden, unconscious values? First, think of the values that are conscious. Some of your most important values are obvious and you can just list them once you understand what a value is. However, other values are difficult to identify. In the following sections, I will describe a number of values clarification methods. Use these values clarification methods to make your own values checklist.
Follow your emotions to underlying values. Since your emotions are so closely linked to your values satisfaction, you can follow them to find underlying values. Focus on your emotions and focus on thoughts and images that are associated with these emotions to give you clues about underlying values. A good psychotherapist knows this technique well. Instead of avoiding thoughts and images that produce strong emotions, focus on the thoughts and images producing the strongest emotions. (See the self-exploration method in chapter 2.)
Actively fantasize and observe the dreams and themes that interest you. In an experiment during World War II, prisoners in a state prison volunteered for research on starvation. After days of bread and water diets, their attention was constantly focused upon food. They dreamed about food, they fantasized about food, and they talked about food with each other constantly. In other words, when an important value is not being met, it tends to emerge in the themes of our thoughts, dreams, and actions.
What themes attract you in movies and TV shows? What do you like to read and talk about? What do you think about when your mind is free to wonder? Do you have active fantasies or dreams? If you constantly watch romantic or adventure movies, then they reflect your values. You may not be getting some underlying value adequately satisfied. Watching those movies is one way to get more romance or adventure in your life.
Similarly, notice the themes that turn you off. What are you avoiding? Perhaps you are getting too much of something. Or perhaps you are not facing a fear you need to overcome. Maybe you can reduce your unhappiness through self-exploration.
Actively dreaming and fantasizing can be the first step to creating a world more like our dreams--at least in ways which meet the same underlying values. Martin Luther King's "Dream for America" not only was a powerful motivator for himself, but even helped create a world that was more like his dream.
What are your fantasies and dreams? If they seem silly, impractical, or that no one would value them, try questioning those self-doubts. If--after examination--they still seem impractical, (1) identify the underlying values and (2) create more practical dreams and goals (that will meet those underlying values).
Value expectations affect our happiness. To get over negative emotions, identify (1) which values are not being met and (2) your value expectation levels for each value. Two people may make $40.000 per year, one is very happy with that income and one is very unhappy with it because their expectation levels are different. One person thinks they need or should be making $30,000 and the other $50.000. Their expectation levels are almost as important as their actual salaries in determining their overall satisfaction in this value area. As you identify different values and goals, examine your goal and expectation levels. (See chapter 8 to see how to change those levels.)
(1) Make a values checklist. List as many important general, underlying values as you can think of off the top of your head. First, list your different life areas such as your career, people, your body and mind, your possessions, the world around you, your recreation and other interests, etc. Then, list values under each life area. During each of the following exercises, when you think of a new value, add it to your values checklist.
(2) Think about how you spend your time. Ask yourself why you spend so much time doing what you do? What values are being satisfied (or you hope will be satisfied in the future) from each important activity?
(3) What do you spend your money for? What would you add to your life if you had 10 million dollars? (Your spending reflects your values.)
(4) If you could have one special, unlimited talent be given to you, what would it be? What values would it help you satisfy?
(5) Think of times in your life when you were the happiest. Picture them clearly and follow your feelings to see what values were being satisfied. Which are not being satisfied now?
Do you still enjoy the same activities you did 10 years ago? The same music? What about the types of people? Research has shown that people's general interests, attitudes, and other preferences tend to persist for many years. On the other hand, it is possible for our interests to change radically.
We can change our values and interests with new knowledge and skills. Does your life seem too monotonous, too hum-drum? Do you want more zest and fun? Perhaps you need some new interesting activities. We need knowledge and skill to enjoy many things in life. Certainly we cannot enjoy talking with a Frenchman unless we can speak French. We cannot enjoy playing tennis unless we know how to play. We cannot enjoy classical music, unless we can perceive the more subtle music patterns and appreciate them.
Frequently, clients' primary complaint is that they are depressed or feel that they cannot enjoy being alone. Often, they only enjoy activities involving other people. Sometimes, they have trouble thinking of anything they enjoy alone at all! They are very dependent upon other people for their enjoyment in life. Therefore, they are susceptible to being controlled by others.
In contrast, people who have developed their own interests and enjoy solitary activities are rarely needy--they tend to be much more independent. The greater the variety of interests, the less dependent they are upon any particular person, economic situation, or any other factor. In short a person with many interests has more routes to happiness available--and is less dependent upon one route. Learn how to be self-entertaining!
We can change our values by changing our beliefs and reconditioning ourselves. When I was a child, I disliked fish and loved beef. However, once I learned about the health advantages of fish, I decided to try to like fish better. I used a technique of gradual association with positive things I already liked. I started with mild-tasting fish combined with sauces or other seasonings that largely took away all of the fish taste and left a pleasant seasoned taste.
In addition I told myself how healthy fish is. I pictured it helping clear my arteries and pictured animal fats clogging my arteries. I was so successful that today I like fish better than beef and even eat fairly strong-tasting fish.
We can learn to recondition our tastes--to dislike sources of bad habits. For example, I led a stop smoking group in which we used a rapid-smoking aversive conditioning technique to help people lose their attraction to the taste of cigarette smoke. People smoked one cigarette after another in a small room until each person felt almost sick at their stomach. This conditioning experience helped them lose some of their positive taste for smoking and made quitting much easier.
We also asked people to examine reasons why they smoked and examine basic beliefs related to smoking. For example, some people had always thought of themselves as being independent, rebellious, or outgoing and had associated this self-image with smoking. Once they realized that they would be more independent and possibly even more respected by not smoking, this change in beliefs also contributed to their quitting.
Six months later, over 70% of the people were still abstainate. These value change techniques are effective. The stop smoking programs that use these techniques achieve the best results of any reported in the research literature on smoking cessation.
How can we develop new interests? "I can learn to enjoy this." Do you assume that your interests are unchangeable? Do you assume that because you never liked something, you never will? These assumptions, alone, can prevent you from growing and developing new interests. If you have assumptions such as these, then the first step is to question them. My own view is that if one healthy person can enjoy an activity, then almost anyone can probably learn to enjoy it--if they are willing to learn how to enjoy it.
If we don't enjoy something, it is because we can't create the mental state of someone who does enjoy it. Appreciation requires learning. I would not say to myself, "I will never enjoy opera." I will only say that I don't care for it much now, but that I think I could learn to like it if I chose to take the time and energy required to learn how.
After you overcome your belief that you cannot learn to enjoy something, then it is time to begin learning how to enjoy it. Learning may require reading, taking lessons, practicing, and playing. Find people who like the activity and interview them. What do they like so much about it? How did they learn to like it? Arranging to have a surplus of overall positive versus negative experiences with the activity is very important.
PRACTICE: Inventory of Interests--stretch your likes. (1) Take an inventory of your current interests. Do you have enough activities that you truly enjoy doing alone? With others? If not, then think of some that you might like to try. (2 Think of at least one potential new activity you want to enjoy more. Plan to increase that interest. Take lessons, interview people who love it, or read about it.
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