Part of finding meaning is being sure that we are living according to our values. The deep inner feeling that we are doing the “right thing” provides a sense of fulfillment which helps us be happier. If we are not clear what our values are or that we are living according to the “right” values it is difficult to feel that sense of fulfillment. Unfortunately, our values are not as clear today as they once were for our ancestors.
Over the centuries, values have become less clear, less defined, and less stable. In a world that had specified social structures, limited knowledge transfer, and a culture of conformity, it was easy to understand and accept the tribe’s values. You didn’t know any different and your need to be accepted by the tribe in order to survive (protection, food, shelter) provided a great reason to have blind faith.
Tribe, religious, military, and political leaders provided rules and framed events according to the values of the culture. Success and failure, crime and punishment, and happiness today or in an afterlife could be defined in terms of whether the individual lived according to the cultural values. The community leaders and elders would reinforce the values and teach them to the younger tribe and community members.
As life has improved from a struggle for survival to an opportunity for self-actualization, younger generations have fought for their independence and the ability to determine their own set of values. Easier access to information shed light on the many leaders who did not honestly live the values they espoused. This caused the younger generations to question the fundamental nature of the values. If people in positions of power did not live by what were supposed to be fundamental values, then they must not be fundamental, they must be more optional. The chain of benefits and reasons to maintain those values were lost in the controversy. For example, religious beliefs and the promise of something better in the next life provided a strong value guide that led many people to make good choices. They knew how they should worship, how they should treat other people, and what was important in life. As knowledge of the religious and other leaders’ violations of the values became more widespread and concrete, younger generations naturally challenged the fundamental nature of those values and often chose to bend or eliminate them all together. They decided to make their own choices about what would and would not work in their lives.
As a result, many of us are now left with an overwhelming amount of choice and confusion related to our values. All that choice leads to a lack of clarity and stability which makes us feel uncomfortable. Rather than knowing and being clear about what is right, we are unsure. Rather than a fundamental inviolable set of rules, we have a set of parts that we need to assemble.
The good news is, we can assemble those parts if we take a little time to identify them, understand them, and validate them with our friends and family. We tend to be attracted to people with similar values. They can help us and we can help them reinforce how those values apply to the decisions and situations in our lives. Having a clear sense of doing the “right” thing and knowing right from wrong will help us find meaning in and feel fulfilled by the choices we make and the actions we take.