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What is Values-Rich Living?

February 9, 2021

At its heart, values-rich living is about harvesting the benefits of love in everything you do.

Hill with dried grass and golden sun setting in distant horizon
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Diana Hill, PhD, is a clinical psychologist, international trainer, and sought-out speaker on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and compassion

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The humble gardener

I am a fairly humble gardener, and I should be. At any one time my vegetable patch has something that is thriving (right now it is broccoli and calendula flowers) and something that is limping along (don’t look at my lettuce).

Gardening is one of the few areas I don’t get caught in the striving cycle. And because of that it is liberating and enjoyable for me. Gardening for me is also a values-rich activity. It gifts many of my values at once – growing nutrient-dense food, being outside in nature, teaching my kids about where their food comes from, even the cycle of using our food scraps to feed our chickens and our chicken poop to feed our pea crop.

Values versus Goals

Values-rich living is:

  • Process-based over outcome oriented
  • Intrinsically rewarding
  • Linked to who and what you care most about
  • Meeting many of your heart’s needs at once

Values are different from goals. Values motivate us to stay committed to what we care about even when life challenges us. Unlike goals or rules, values are flexible and are in the here and now. Values are not something we achieve in the future.

How many times have you been caught in the “I’ll feel better when…” trap? I’ll feel better when:

  • I get done with school
  • I find my life’s partner
  • I get a better car
  • I fix my stress
  • I fix my nose

Take a moment to finish this sentence for yourself right now:

I’ll feel better when….

Shoulds vs. longings

Whatever your end goal is, if it isn’t linked to your values it becomes a “should.” Shoulds lead to cycles of unhealthy striving. When we are engaging in unhealthy striving we move too fast, or too slow, to nowhere.

Think about someone you care about and admire. Why do you admire them? Is it the size of their zucchini crop? The prestige of their job? The cleanliness of their kitchen? Or is it something more? Maybe it’s how they tend the garden of their life. Take a moment to write down the qualities of that person:

I admire _____ because they:

These qualities are linked to what you value, deep inside. We are tuning forks and when allowed to vibrate we will tune to the very qualities which we long for in ourselves.

Notice I didn’t say “have.” We don’t have values, we live them. Who and what do you want to be in relationship to school, work, parenting, your spiritual practice, your health?

Process vs. Outcome

Often we get so caught up in the goals of growing unblemished tomatoes that we miss out on the taste of it all. The feeling of dirt under our hands. Outcomes can be something we enjoy (I was very proud of our pumpkin crop last year) but they only mean something when they are guided by our values. The best part of the pumpkins? Checking on them every day with my 7 year old son, and seeing the wonder in his face as they grew SO BIG!

A Direction to Head

In A Liberated Mind, by ACT co-founder Steven Hayes, he shares about a study he did on 579 college students looking at values and academic performance. A portion of the students took a 15-minute online training where they were taught about values as directions to head toward, and were asked to write about their values around academics. At the end of the semester this group of students had a two-tenths increase in GPA compared to the control group. And when the control group was offered the intervention, the too had the GPA improvement.

Values are a direction in which to head. A way to pursue your authentic self. A few things can happen once you start living your values:

  • You reach the very goals you have been striving for, but the journey is interest-driven as opposed to deprivation-driven
  • You flexibility changes course and you start striving for goals that matter to you
  • You start caring a lot more about the process

Because at its heart, values-rich living is harvesting the benefits of love all along the way.

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