How Gratitude Can Help Us Identify Our Values

By Steve Wright, LCPC, Grace Program Coordinator, Timberline Knolls

I can’t put a number on how many times I have heard clients tell me, “I just don’t know who I am? I don’t know what my values are.” For some, it may be because of the brokenness and trauma they have experienced. For others it may be about never having had the opportunity to consider such a question.

Whatever the reason, not knowing who you are or what you value makes living a meaningful life almost impossible. So, how does one go about determining one’s values and sense of identity?

I would say, gratitude can help to figure out what you value and who you want to be. Think of the person in your life for whom you are most grateful. Now think of a time when this person did or said something that benefitted you; maybe you can think of several times. Take a moment and write about that person. Maybe even pretend you are writing them a letter expressing how thankful you are for what they did and for who they are. Be specific and detailed.

Now, go back and re-read what you wrote. Notice some of the “virtue” words you wrote or that describe this person. What words pop out? Kindness? Non-judgmental? Generous? Create a list of 3-5 words that describe this person’s attributes.

What you have done in this exercise is to decode your own values. If you noticed and appreciated that this person is a good friend and trustworthy, it is obvious you value connection and faithfulness. If you noticed this person never judged you and understood what you have been through, you obviously value acceptance.

Once you are able to identify the things you value in others you have the opportunity to begin to organize your behavior around those values. Let’s say you have a friend who seems to always be kind to you and to others around them. That kindness enriched you. You may even notice a longing to be kind like that person. You could start looking for opportunities to be kind.

When you do that, when you start to arrange your behaviors around the things you value, you are acting purposefully. You are, in fact, adding to someone’s life just like the person you described added to your life in the way that was meaningful to you.

Once you begin to organize your actions in this way and act purposefully more and more often, you will begin to gain a sense of meaning. In other words, your life will mean something to someone else just like the life of the person you wrote about means something to you.

People want to feel as if their lives matter and have meaning. Living purposefully leads to that sense of meaning. And, meaning doesn’t have to be something as formal as a career or some monumental accomplishment. Real meaning and value are expressed day-in and day-out in the little things.

*The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders and not intended as endorsement by iaedp™ Foundation, Inc. or its Board of Directors.*

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