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That which we value tends to make us happier.

That seemingly innocuous and obvious statement has a lot behind it.

For example, what exactly do we value? Do we know? Is it material wealth? Is it achievement? Is it some combination? Most people assume they know what their values are. Politicians certainly talk enough about it. Is there a universal set of values most people share?

To learn more about how our values drive our well-being, researchers at the University of Illinois a number of years ago asked students to keep a journal for nearly a month straight, asking them at the end of each day to rate how good or bad a day it was and whether or not they were satisfied with certain things, like their social life.

They discovered that day-to-day satisfaction is strongly influenced by the domain we value the most. Thus, if achievement was highly valued by the students, achievement-oriented individuals tended to evaluate a day as good when they excelled in some form of achievement. Similarly, people who stressed benevolence evaluated their day as good when they had a positive social interaction.

All this means is that people find different activities more or less rewarding. No surprise there. But think about the consequences. It means, for example, that not everybody places achievement at his or her highest value level and that’s okay. We don’t all have to be high achievers or social magnets to be happy.

Find what you do value and focus on that, not on what society as a whole believes.

Source: Value as a Moderator in Subjective Well-Being. Shigehiro Oishi, Ed Diener, Eunkook Suh, Richard E. Lucas, Journal of Personality 67:1; February, 1999

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