Personal Values as the Keys to Contentment

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.


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.


We know money is not life’s most important element.  So why do 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.

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 simply surrendering your power.


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.


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.

So, 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.”


By: Dr. Lance Mason,

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