Personal Values as the Keys To Contentment

by Guest Contributor · 18 comments

David’s Note: Today’s guest post is written in a different tone than what you are used to from MoneyNing. Let us know what you think in the comments section!

Though he’d been a bankrupt cotton farmer before WWII, by 1975 many people considered H. L. Hunt to be the world’s wealthiest man. When someone asked him the key to his success, he said, “Son, only two things ya gotta decide in life – whatcha want, and watcha willing to pay to git it. An’ the most important one is the first one.”

Indeed. What we’re “willing to pay” means the work required (or its equivalent) to achieve what we want. But what we want—truly want—is the most important thing, and that is a reflection of our values, who and what we are inside, at the core of our being. Satisfying those values is the key to happiness and security. Synchronizing your goals to your values brings great personal power to the decisions you make in life. Chasing other goals can eat up huge amounts of effort, time, emotion, and money for things that will never bring lasting gratification.

What and where are your values? They lie in what you know to be true about yourself and in how you use—or ignore—that knowledge in your decisions. Your values are defined by who you are, by your evaluations of yourself, and by how you judge the material and moral worth of life’s options. How faithfully you act on those judgments shows your values’ depth and stability. Simply stated, our actions reflect our values, giving rise to the old aphorism, “Actions speak louder than words” when judging a person’s true self.

Contentment and Values

Values, goals, and security are major motivators in our lives. Our values shape our expectations of ourselves. Fulfillment of those expectations brings us deep psychological and emotional rewards (and failing in them brings injury). These outcomes cause us to repeat (or shun) that behavior. In pursuing self-expectations and the values that underpin them, we’re after goals that bring us pleasure, promise, and a sense of belonging. As we develop, we also generate images of who we are, a sense of self. We then try to fulfill those images, or visions, that are in our best interests. These “best interests” reflect back on our values and reinforce our goals. Values provide critical directions on the road to happiness and contentment, so they need to be a big part of how we choose and act.
Achieving goals will not by itself bring you happiness. Gordon Livingston, in Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart, tells us that happiness comes from good work to do, someone to love, and something to look forward to. Those things revolve around a person’s values, so it’s essential that your goals be bound to what has real meaning and worth for you. If not, if you build your goals around artificial views of what’s desirable and rewarding, you will spend your blood, sweat, toil, and tears accomplishing things that won’t bring you contentment, things that can, in fact, bring you poverty.

Power

Our ambitions reflect our values and our usefulness to other deserving people and to life in general. Fulfillment of values and achievement of ambitions rely primarily on our ability to maintain and exercise personal power, especially over ourselves and the natural inclinations we all have to take our gratifications today, to take the easy road. Learning about yourself, day by day and year by year, gathering information on who you are and how you live your life—these are the keys to controlling your power, to keeping your goals in focus and your life on track. Using your power well is how you will reach the goals that match your values and find the most meaning in life.

If you can see yourself, really see yourself – your strengths, your flaws, your values – you have a power in life that few people do. It’s a power that can understand and control all the other powers inside you.

Money

We know money is not life’s most important element. So why did we blog and sweat and worry about it? Because, good, bad, or ugly, we live in a world in which money plays a critical role in nearly everyone’s life and future. As such, it requires a certain amount of attention and planning. Many of the same principles that apply to solving the problems of life also apply to solving the problems of your finances and your monetary future. Goals, values, power, security, planning, selfishness, overindulgence, being thoughtful, being thoughtless, exercise of insight, flexibility, stubbornness, self-deceit, self-esteem, the power of the subconscious—all these factors bear heavily on the ebb and flow of money as well as the management of life.

Also—Keep a long time-horizon.

The Monster That Is Marketing

The marketing industry and the merchandising world have no interest whatever in your values or your future. Only you and those close to you do. Stunning hairdos, great suits, new skis, jewelry, teeth bleaching—all these things are fine in the right context, but don’t become obsessed with images or choices that chase unreality, empty values, and false security. This is surrendering your power.

Community

Do community attitudes and personal ethics play a role in our financial future? Yes. Part of building a healthy bank balance is making dozens, even hundreds, of decisions that must mesh not only with one’s personal values, but also with one’s social values as we interact with hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people. Four hundred years ago, John Donne wrote “No man is an island, entire of itself.” Much of what we do financially involves interaction with others. Losing sight of the value of others boxes you into a life based solely on your ability to fend for yourself.

Do we get what we deserve? What we deserve as individuals in a society should be based on what value society places on us. To decide for myself what I “deserve,” on the basis of my singular view of myself, is to divorce myself from the values of society, from my community. Then, separated from that community, I am alone, with a long, often unpleasant road ahead.

This is not to say we must let society dictate who and what we are. We must maintain individuality for our own well-being and unique rewards, but as integrated parts of our communities.

Rigidity

Your core values are extremely important in setting goals for your life, but rigidly worshiping all those values all the time can be suffocating, and can strangle your ability to survive and prosper. So be flexible in how you apply those values at least some of the time; even test the validity of those values if they seem to be too great an obstacle to your goals.

BTW, recent media propaganda about “family values” is nothing more than political sloganeering. There is no moral dogma, written in a manual somewhere, that dictates how we all should decide and act. We need to learn from our communities and follow our conscience.

Conclusion

If you’re sometimes disappointed in yourself for not achieving the high standards you always try to live by, take comfort in one of my favorite sayings: “Only people who are mediocre can be at their best all the time.”

This is a guest post from Dr. Lance Mason, which co-wrote the Seven Paths to Poverty – Finding Financial Stability in an Unstable World, with Gary Byrne, Ph.D. You can find it on Amazon.com.

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{ read the comments below or add one }

  • Lance Mason says:

    I know many of you are now factoring into your travel plans the idea of coming to Santa Barbara for your root canal treatment, and you will be relying heavily on “Cindy’s” obviously balanced and court-tested viewpoints in your decisions. The beaches here are lovely, and there are many good restaurants. Bring your attorney.

  • Lance Mason says:

    There is nothing I said in either trial that wasn’t accurate and substantiated by the facts, the evidence, and the specialist’s findings. The applicable laws and the two judges agreed. I feel sorry for your problems, whatever they might be, emotional, physical, etc., but it’s clear from the evidence and the courts’ two decisions that I am not responsible for them.
    While you have chosen to express your rancor and frustration here in a totally inappropriate forum, I have tried to respond factually. I will not respond further here and will expect you to abide by the courts’ findings against you.

  • Cindy says:

    The courts did not say that so lying to serve your interests certainly does not show good values. Lying and speculating under oath also does not show good values. Freedom of speech is in the constitution for a reason. People need to know the truth and other’s experiences before choosing a dentist or choosing to read an author’s book. Everyone is entitled to their opinion and to make the choices that they make. I would not choose to go to a dentist who leaves me in pain after his treatment and then takes me to court for money. I doubt anyone else would make that choice either. The public needs to hear others’ experiences so that they can make informed decisions, and as you said, not decisions based on the marketing of the person selling the goods and services which could be biased.

  • Lance Mason says:

    The patient is re-stating here arguments that the courts have twice rejected as illogical, ill-informed, error-ridden, and baseless, and contrary to the specialist’s findings. She opened this debate with accusations and abusive name-calling, which has been her pattern. While she may say in public whatever serves her interests, I am constrained by privacy laws from elaborating on certain aspects of her treatment. This is not the forum for it, in any case.

  • Lance Mason says:

    Unfortunately, web- and blogsites can be victimized by paranoiacs and other disturbed people I have no intention of perverting Mr. Ning’s purpose in this blog by debating with this woman on a case in which two judges, two attorney’s, and two court trials have found against her and in my favor, the latest decision being on April 12. She attempted to use the courts to avoid my fee and to compensate herself financially and otherwise for what were to me, and certainly to the courts, baseless claims. The specialist she mentions also found my treatment to be satisfactory, as she well knows from his chart notes and the trial outcomes. I leave it now to the observer to judge who is credible and who is not. My apologies to Mr. Ning and his readers for this annoyance and my need to respond.

    • Cindy says:

      Lance Mason took me to court after a root canal he performed on me left me in pain for 4 months and I disputed the charges. A very good endodontist evaluated the root canal that he did and told me that the only way to relieve the pain was to do the root canal over again. He suggested to Lance Mason that he not charge me for the work that he did. It cost me over twice what it would have cost had I had the root canal done by the endodontist in the first place since the new dentist had to do CT scans and remove the filling material but Lance Mason did not tell me until after he started the work that I might want to do that. Then it was too late because no dentist will get involved in work that another dentist has started and did not do well unless it is completed and they are sure that the pain will not go away. The court system relies on experts testifying against a dentist and since Santa Barbara is a very small town no dentist will testify against another dentist since they get referrals from other dentists. Is the court system fair? Let the reader decide. This all cost money so Lance Mason is all about money and not about relieving pain which is what a dentist is supposed to do. Before choosing a dentist, a reader might want to know the experience of other people he has treated. Then they have an informed way of making a decision. If you are in Santa Barbara and are in need of a root canal go to Dr Pannkuk. He knows what he is doing and has the equipment to do it well. He takes the pain away and does not cause more pain. If the treatment that Lance Mason performed were satisfactory, why would an endodontist have to do the work over again? Why would someone want to do a root canal twice in 4 months? The reader can come to their own conclusion given the facts and experience of others. If someone is writing blogs about money, people might want to know the background of that person and how they get their money. Are they ethical and do they give advice based upon morals one would want to follow or do they feel victimized by other people giving their experiences and opinions so that they have to call them names? The readers have a right to know.

  • Cindy says:

    In my opinion, Lance Mason is a hypocrite. He is all about money. He is a dentist and when a dentist is supposed to relieve pain, he caused it and then took me to court to get money. I had to go to another dentist and have the root canal that he did on me done over again. I would not believe a word he says.

  • Lance Mason says:

    That’s not been my experience, but, hey, that’s only me. If what a lot of money can do is part of your value structure and your goals, and that’s enduring for you, then best of luck to you. We live in a really heterogeneous society, with all kinds of backgrounds, experience, and subcultures. If what money can do is tied into someone’s endorphin factory, and there’s a long time horizon to the rewards, I don’t know why it can’t work for that person. Bill Gates and Warren Buffett weren’t crying in their beers last time I looked.

  • Marcus says:

    Money buys everything. That’s what money is for — buying things. Happiness is most definitely one of those things.

    • Lance Mason says:

      That’s not been my experience, but, hey, that’s only me. If what a lot of money can do is part of your value structure and your goals, and that’s enduring for you, then best of luck to you. We live in a really heterogeneous society, with all kinds of backgrounds, experience, and subcultures. If what money can do is tied into someone’s endorphin factory, and there’s a long time horizon to the rewards, I don’t know why it can’t work for that person. Bill Gates and Warren Buffett weren’t crying in their beers last time I looked.

  • Ron Peters says:

    Research shows that money has very little to do with life satisfaction beyond the minimum amount needed for basic survival. The quality of your relationships and finding meaning in what you do are what matter to your level of contentment. International comparisons show the same thing – a graph of life satisfaction plotted against average income for the world’s nations shows a steep logistical curve. That is, happiness shoots up like a rocket until you pass the poverty level, then the curve takes a sharp right turn and levels out. Beyond this level, life satisfaction increases only minimally as average income continues to go up. From here on, it’s all about friends and meaning, cash is irrelevant.

    • Lance Mason says:

      I’ve been very fortunate to have lived in many countries and traveled extensively. From Western Zambia to the New Zealand’s West Coast to the hinterlands of N.E. Brasil to the Kelabet hilltribe country of Borneo, what Ron Peters says is absolutely true. Perception is reality, and enduring emotional reward has little to do with money as long as fear of future welfare doesn’t dominate a person’s outlook.

  • JLA says:

    I like that: “Only a mediocre person can be at their best all of the time.”

    Reminds me of: If you never fail, it means you’re not taking enough chances.

    • Lance Mason says:

      Yes, it reflects certain angles of what Hunt and Livingston say about happiness: deciding what you want and are willing to pay for it (Hunt), and having something to look forward to as a component of happiness (Livingston), both introduce pushing the envelope, getting out of the comfort zone in bringing a sense of movement and achievement into your life..

  • MB says:

    Good article. I like change and variety. “Variety is the spice of life.”

  • This is a good article. It teaches about contentment and the values that an individual should have to help you become contented.

    • Lance Mason says:

      Have a look at our book’s website. You might want to get a copy. It’s fundamentally about money, but in the context of integrating it into your overall outlooks about yourself and how you live your life.

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