❝Personal values are the measuring sticks by which we determine what is a successful and meaningful life.❞ -Mark Manson
I'm stressed out as I sit at my kitchen table, trying to figure out how I will pay rent this month. It's 2001, and I'm trying to go to college and work full time at the same time, but I have to give up some hours because I am simply too busy. I work hourly, so if my hours get cut, my pay gets cut. On top of this, I have a lot of expenses related to school.
My life mission is to find a job where I can make a lot of money. I decide to switch from studying mechanical drafting to studying economics and finance because it feels like there's more money in those fields. The source of my stress seems to be money, so the story I tell myself is that if I had money, then I would be happy.
A decade and a half later, I make more money than I ever thought was possible. I'm never late on any rent payments or mortgage payments. I'm never behind on my bills. Based on my old philosophy, I should be delighted. I'm checking off all the boxes and doing everything I think I'm supposed to do, but I'm not very happy. My work is pointless, and my boss is evil. Having the money to buy whatever I want doesn't compensate for this.
I learned that having money to buy anything I want doesn't actually lead to a meaningful life. Buying what I think I'm supposed to buy doesn't make me very happy. And trying to keep up with the Joneses feels like running in place on a treadmill.
CONSUMERISM AND THE JONESES: OUR DEFAULT MODE
Unless you've been living in a cave, you've heard the expression, "keeping up with the Joneses." This expression, at its core, is about consumerism. Consumerism, essentially, is the idea that consumption is the ticket to happiness. In other words, if we could just buy more and better stuff, we would be able to say that we are happy.
Keeping up with the Joneses goes further than just wanting to buy more and better stuff. It's the "keeping up" piece that is problematic. It's not enough to buy stuff and be happy in a vacuum, comparing ourselves to past versions of ourselves. No, we must compare ourselves to those around us to see if we're happy. The problem is, there will always be somebody with more of something than us.
Thus, we adopt a lifestyle of doing what we think we're supposed to do until one day we realize we haven't been living our lives for ourselves.
THE TOP REGRET OF THE DYING
Author Bronnie Ware used to work as a palliative caregiver. Her job was to care for people who were on their deathbeds. As she talked to more and more patients, she noticed that most people regretted some aspect of their life. Most people felt like they mislived in some way. The next thing she noticed was that the regrets people have at the end of their life tend to fall into five categories. She used her experience to write a book called The Top Five Regrets of the Dying.
The number one source of regret in people that she worked with was that they didn't live a life that was true to themselves and instead lived a life that they thought they were supposed to live. They didn't realize until it was too late that they were living someone else's life.
Sometimes these were relatively minor things, like buying a more expensive car than you otherwise would have or wearing a particular kind of clothing that you wouldn't otherwise wear. Sometimes, though, this shows up in significant ways. This is the doctor who is good at her job and understands the importance of medicine in society but hates being a doctor. She only did it because both of her parents were doctors. It could be the high-flying attorney who is the best in the business and appreciates the law but only became an attorney for status reasons.
Living a life that isn't true to who we are can be thought of as being inauthentic. Inauthenticity is the number one regret people have at the end of their life. The benefit of understanding these regrets today is that you have time to do something about it.
PERSONAL VALUES AND SOURCES OF MEANING
Author, psychologist, and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl wrote that humans have a will to meaning. That is, the quest to live a meaningful life is what we ought to strive for. When you think about how to design a meaningful life, you can think about breaking meaning down into three components:
A meaningful life is a life that has purpose. It is a sense of knowing how to best contribute to the world, whether big or small.
A meaningful life is a life that feels significant. It is a feeling that you matter in the world.
A meaningful life is a life that has coherence. The world makes sense, and you understand how your past ties to your present and how your present may tie to your future.
There are many different sources of meaning. This is deeply personal to every single person. A source of meaning for me may not be a source of meaning for you. Some common sources of meaning include work, family, nature, spirituality, and leisure. Each source of meaning has a different depth. Some sources of meaning are quite shallow. For example, if your primary source of meaning is having more money than the Joneses, then your life won't feel as meaningful because money is a shallow source of meaning. If your primary source of meaning is contributing to your community or your family, then you're more likely to feel that you are living a meaningful life because contribution and family are deeper sources of meaning.
Often when people talk about personal values, we're talking about sources of meaning.
CONFIDENCE IN YOUR VALUES
Knowing who you are and what you find important gives you more confidence in your sense of self-worth. When you use your money to design and live a meaningful life through your personal values, you have a certain confidence that allows you to let go of what the Joneses are doing. What the Joneses do does not impact you. In fact, what the Joneses think about you is none of your business.
You can design and live a meaningful life by understanding who you are and what you find important. This gives you the confidence to let go of what you think you're supposed to be doing and do more of the kinds of things you'll be happy to look back on as you reflect on your life.
You get one life; live intentionally.
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Related Money Health® Reading
References and Influences
Adams, Scott: How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big
Barker, Dan: Life Driven Purpose
Ben-Shahar, Tal: Choose the Life You Want
Burkeman, Oliver: Four Thousand Weeks
Burkeman, Oliver: The Antidote
Fischer, John Martin: Death, Immortality, and Meaning in Life
Frankl, Viktor: Man’s Search for Meaning
Frankl, Viktor: Yes to Life, In Spite of Everything
Hagen, Derek: Money’s Purpose in Your Life
Hagen, Derek: Your Money, Your Values, and Your Life
Haidt, Jonathan: The Happiness Hypothesis
Kinder, George: Seven Stages of Money Maturity
Kinder, George & Mary Rowland: Life Planning for You
Manson, Mark: The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck
McKay, Matthew, John Forsyth, and Georg Eifert: Your Life on Purpose
Robin, Vicki: Your Money or Your Life
Sinek, Simon: Start With Why
Sivers, Derek: Hell Yeah or No
Vos, Joel: Meaning in Life
Wallace, David Foster: This is Water
Ware, Bronnie: The Top Five Regrets of the Dying
Whelan, Christine: The Big Picture
Zweig, Jason: Your Money and Your Brain
Note: Above is a list of references that I intentionally looked at while writing this post. It is not meant to be a definitive list of everything that influenced by thinking and writing. It's very likely that I left something out. If you notice something that you think I left out, please let me know; I will be happy to update the list.