Tuesday, January 27, 2009


"Your values come from who you are, not from the things or services you can buy. Your values are integral to your character, to your life's purpose, to the way you create your future. Your lifestyle, attitudes, choices, and habits; the way you see the world; your goals for the sort of person you want to be--all come from your core values. Defining your values empowers you to make meaningful choices and gives momentum to your actions."

~ Laura Rowley, Money and Happiness: a guide to living the good life.

It was trickier than I thought to identify my values. At the very top of the list are my relationships with my children and spouse, my faith, education, and health. Those are at the top now and they always have been. However, I see that other core values have changed throughout my life. Or maybe there were values I wanted to be core but they never really made it. (Like tidiness and organization?) There are other values I really want to incorporate because I think they will somehow enhance those top values.

Throughout my twenties I was greatly influenced by the values of the people around me and I also didn't quite get it that choosing one thing often means giving up another. I thought I could have it all--I thought I could value everything good in the world. Maybe this sounds stupid to you, but that's really what I thought. I also felt a heavy burden of "should." I thought there were certain values I was obligated to have. I should probably give an example, because I don't think I'm explaining myself well.

When we were looking for our first home, we began searching in the suburbs immediately bordering Minneapolis. Everything in our price range seemed so old and rundown. Since we had zero do-it-yourself ability or desire, we became a bit discouraged. I can't believe I'm admitting this publicly, but what bothered me the most about homes we saw was the smell. I didn't want to move into a house that smelled like other people. It's okay, you can laugh and you can even tease me.

Eventually we found out that there were other suburbs further away from the Twin Cities, where people actually lived. We were shocked to discover a new home in one of those distant suburbs that was in our price range. We went to see the house and fell in love. There was a beautiful, sun-filled kitchen with gleaming new cabinets. And it smelled so human-free.

We bought that house and it didn't bother me at all to live so far from the Cities. I loved it. This new house was in a very different ward than the ward we'd previously been attending while we lived in an apartment. (For the non-Morm readers, ward=congregation. We do not choose where we attend. We are assigned geographically.) This new ward was full of Mormon yuppies. They had big, uber-tasteful homes and new cars. Or if not, they aspired to that. They were on a certain track. They were upwardly-mobile. There was this whole pecking order based on who was the coolest and had the most money. Er, maybe that last sentence was a bit much. I shouldn't call it a "pecking order." These were very nice people. Really, they were! Much nicer than I am.

I totally absorbed these values. It seemed so obvious to me that material success--the perfect home (as large as possible), new cars, clothes from the right stores, the "right" activities for my children, the fancy vacations--was a manifestation of inner, personal success. I think both Jorge and I had these same dreams and values.

In 1999 we were called as missionaries to an inner-city branch of our Church. Our values started to change. Once we had a little distance from that peer group, we saw that the material stuff and the hope for greater material stuff in the future was not making us happy. We began to rediscover what our real values were. I started homeschooling Georgie and found immense satisfaction in that. I continued with my own education, formally and informally. I found friends who were interested in talking about books and ideas. We spun new dreams.

I've found it is one thing to recognize that materialism does not bring happiness, and another to actually live it. It takes a lot of work to get off the hedonic treadmill and stay off. This book mentions several disturbing studies that show exactly how irrationally we all act and why. We are poor recallers of our past feelings and poor predictors of our future feelings. There is something called the "hot/cold empathy gap," which means that "when people are in a 'cold,' or neutral emotional state, they often have trouble imagining how they would feel or what they would do if they were in a 'hot' state--angry, hungry, in pain, or at a Prada sample sale with 200 other women."

This post is now officially rambling, so I should probably cut it short. Here is what I think I value right now, though with less priority than those already mentioned in the first paragraph: simplicity, adventure, and variety. And maybe a cheeseburger. It's been a long time since I ate red meat.


Ave said...

Excellent post, and don't feel weird about hating the smell of other peoples homes. I totally hate people smell. Our home growing up didn't really smell like much, except for the eucalyptus in the front entry way. In fact right now I am sitting at work wondering why the chemical used on laying the cork floor, smells like silage.

Dina said...

Maybe I should read the book. I like to think of myself as immune to peer pressure by my ripe old age of 40. I have several materialistic friends (they're nice in other ways!) that try their hardest to mold me to what they think will make me happy, and I'm sure I drive them crazy with my "no thank you's". We have the means to do all of the things they do, but end up taking an RV trip to Nauvoo instead of a Disney cruise. We decline the fancy dinner invitations and get take out and watch our Netflix latest. I have found that I am much less a follower with #1-more money at my disposal and #2-age (or is that wisdom?)

But, I'm sure my daily life could use some alignment with what I "claim" I value. (Ex: Why am I on the computer instead of at the gym if I value my health?)

Meg said...

Not to ignore your thoughts, which were expressed very well and have left me reviewing the last 17+ years...but...

That is a cool picture. :)

Ballerina Girl said...

Interesting post...really got me thinking about my values. I need to reassess them!
No teasing from me...it was well worth the read!

Brenda said...

What I value today is ME! I have served my head off for my offspring and their friends and now it is time for ME and guess what, I feel truly HAPPY! Maybe serving oneself equates happiness too!!! Back to the old balance equation. I think a lot of outlooks are influenced by childhood. Same thing as values? Not totally but in my experience I see a difference on how money affects values depending upon when and how easily it was aquired in ones life and what the lifestyle of their parents was like or not. I worry that my children aren't experiencing what I did to formulate those values BUT I wanted music lessons and other opportunities so that's what they get, case-in-point:)

Calandria said...

Ave, someone once told me our house smelled like household cleaners. And I have to admit I love the smell of household cleaners.

Dina, I think you are on to something--that maturity and having "been there, done that" help to make materialism less attractive. I've found too that as I have more buying power, I have less interest in buying. Well. To an extent. Theoretically. :)

Meg, you are what you read. :)

Ballerina Girl, thanks for your comment. I don't know if it was really worth the read, but it felt good to write it. :)

Brenda, I think that serving oneself does bring happiness. Like you say, it's about balance.

Now that I reread my post I think it sounds a bit holier-than-thou. Like I totally wrinkle me nose not only at human-smelling houses but anyone who drives a new car or has a large, fancy house. Not true!! I really don't. I only meant to say those things are not important to me.

Dina said...

Okay, now I have to comment on the large house. We have a fairly large house by Portland standards. I get comments when people come over. BUT, when we sat down to sketch it out, we wanted 4 bedrooms, a playroom, a walk in pantry and a mudroom. Voila! That's exactly what we got, with some rooms and hallways connecting them. :) So, I don't feel like I *value* a big house as much as I value organization and space for my kids not to be right on top of each other. And, of course, a spot for the grand piano. I value music.

I think you can look at someone and *think* you know what they value (a large, new home), but maybe they value a better school district than they had, space for all their many children, and organized back packs. :)

Anonymous said...

In Young Women's they have 7 values they try to get girls to think about. I thought I understood until I was in my late 30's and realized I was still learning and actually didn’t know a thing. Through experiences and cultures our values change whether we think so or not so I think your post is great. I think its great that your still reflecting and thinking about them. A lot of people don't bother.

A friend told me, if you want to know if your materialistic or not just pretend all your possessions just went up in a big fire and keep that in mind when you spring clean. You’ll find that throwing out stuff is a lot easier.

I also like the bookcase. I think I’ll make one. Thanks for the idea.

Mama Ava said...

yesweareonmars is right. That's happened to us. Twice. Sometimes I envy people who always have that one jar for a project or extra clothes for costumes or whatever it is. But when it was all gone, I didn't miss it and with the insurance money I didn't replace everything. Instead, I thought about what I really used and needed and bought upgraded versions that I know I'll like.

That was really driven home in Tanzania and even more important to remember here in China. American consumerism has nothing on the Chinese with money. Holy cow, they can spend! I asked a woman the other day where she got her bag and how much she paid for it (it's not at all impolite here to do that, esp. since we bargain for everything so it's good to know prices). She said she didn't pay much at all, very reasonable...only 6,000RMB (about $500). I choked--she clearly shopped at the REAL Prada store, not the knockoffs!

Calandria said...

Auntie, when you're done making your bookcase, make me one too.

Ave said...

After we had our "big fire" I realized that I did value my possesions. I still miss my eclectic clothing collection. Everyone has their own journey in the process. I would like to live in a small hobbit hole that is semi underground with a grass roof and big round door.

Anonymous said...

Mama Ave, the Dutch are like that to. If you give someone a compliment on something they tell you what it cost and they can pay a lot for something but then I live in an afluent area and that makes a difference I think.