You’ve probably heard the old dictum from Socrates that “an unexamined life is not worth living.” It always struck me as a little harsh. But there’s something to be said about occasionally taking a time-out from our busy lives to look inward and contemplate where we stand. Among the questions we might ask ourselves:
- Am I living my fullest possible life, making the best use of my God-given attributes and talents?
- Am I living a life filled with trivial pursuits or is there some real substance there?
- Do I have a core set of values I live by? If I do, am I abiding by these values?
In Wisdom, Apprenticing to the Unknown and Befriending Fate, Paul Dunion describes values as “the psychological scaffolding allowing you to have a larger vision.” When you have a set of values to live by, they “operate as a guiding system helping you to return to what is truly important.” They add meaning to your life, informing you how to act and what to do in each moment and each day.
Dunion reminds us that not everyone lives by the same code or set of values. “Education, wealth and fame are regularly endorsed as ways to approach life.” But are they the best ways? The author continues “In reality, we should be moving beyond the bankruptcy of an ego-oriented life.” That means having a set of personal values that transcends what society may expect of us, setting a higher standard for our own lives.
According to Dunion, there are 7 conditions, or core values, that help us “sustain our relationship to the sacred.” He refers to the 7 as the “sustainables.” It may seem like an odd word choice until you see its definition, “to maintain at a certain rate or level.” The sustainables represent 7 core values present in each of our lives. If your intent is to live “an examined life,” they merit your deep consideration and contemplation.
Consider each of the values below and consider: What am I getting right? Where have I gone off track? What do I still need to work on and how can I make improvements? The thinking and words below are primarily from Dunion, though I have interspersed my own thoughts.
The 7 Core Values of Life
- Authenticity. Do you speak the truth about who you are, whenever and wherever possible? No putting up airs or pretending that you’re someone you’re not. You are the same person to everyone you encounter, with the same openness and genuine spirit.
- Compassion. Do you have “the ability to hold sympathy for the suffering of others, for suffering we might inflict on others, and for our own suffering.” When you are compassionate, it allows you to get close to others while also allowing others to get close to you. You refrain from being divisive, finding the common threads that tie us together rather than identifying the differences.
- Gratitude. “When we are grateful for our experiences, we define ourselves as beneficiaries of life.” There may be some who protest and complain about life, but those who possess gratitude are thankful for all the good that is in their lives, right down to the smallest detail.
- Integrity. If you’re a person with integrity, you make choices according to what and who you love and what you value. You are honest with yourself and with others. Your actions reflect your values and your heart’s desire. As time passes, you become more attuned to what truly matters and whether you are making choices that reflect your values.
- Simplicity. You begin to appreciate particular “smallish” moments, finding joy in the simple comforts and the beauty found in the everyday. Gone is the desire for a bigger this or a more expensive that. You realize that all you need from life is either around you or easily within your reach.
- Courage. Think of courage “as the willingness to know and act in honor of where your heart is called.” You allow life to touch you, deepen you and broaden you, enabling you to know when to act or speak up, even when your actions will not be received favorably by all.
- Generosity. Your life’s purpose depends on some awareness of what you are supposed to give. Ask yourself: How generous am I with my empathy? My offerings of acknowledgement and encouragement? My compassion? Realize you are here to serve others through your generosity of spirit.