The Importance of Values for Well-Being

11 March, 2020
Values help forge a connection between what you believe and what you want. Therefore, they help people find their way in life.

Pain and stressful situations are part of life. Although people naturally tend to escape in order to shut out negative emotions, it’s important to realize that avoiding suffering isn’t a practical solution.

Instead, you have to incorporate these negative feelings so that the experience can positively influence your future. If you avoid and suppress them, you won’t process them. Thus, the suffering remains, unresolved and hidden.

Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) is a form of experiential cognitive and behavioral therapy based on relational frame theory (RFT). It’s a perspective that emphasizes a variety of concepts such as experiential avoidance and cognitive fusion. Other concepts include the absence or weakening of values and the onset and course of behavioral rigidity.

A sad woman lying on her side.

The importance of values for well-being

Nowadays, psychotherapy considers values important. This is because a person’s values provide context for their historical actions. At the same time, therapists emphasize acceptance in order to give off an illusion of well-being. This approach is a far cry from the judgmental attitude which leads a person to complain all the time.

Simply put, the goal is for the patient to accept the inevitable pain. It’s important for patients to remember that some things are out of their control. This lets them give up their behavioral rigidity and judgmental attitude. In turn, they’ll experience greater peace of mind.

Values vs. discomfort

To help a patient, you must pinpoint their values and see if their behavior is geared towards achieving them.

In their day-to-day lives, they probably focus their behavior on resolving issues, abandoning what matters most, their values. This situation leads to the onset of experiential avoidance disorder, which consists of suppressing thoughts related to bad experiences.

The therapeutic aim is to help the person make a commitment to guiding their behavior towards what matters to them. From this perspective, they can face their problems and not just “end” the suffering they entered therapy with.

Values promote change

By using your values as your foundation, you can promote a change in behavior that can lead to well-being. This way, you can guide them towards better mental health. This begins with a wide range of behaviors geared toward personal values.

On the other hand, unwanted cognitive and emotional states, such as sadness, anxiety, worries, and fear, are a part of being human and, therefore, totally natural. Thus, they need to be incorporated into daily life and not avoided or fought against. Thus:

  • Try to achieve better well-being through a commitment to those actions that truly matter. This behavior should be guided by what’s important and what the person wants.
  • It’s important to learn to view distress as a natural part of life. This way, you can move past these periods of distress without putting up a fight, as this would fuel the discomfort and cause even more suffering.
  • Values are timeless, meaning you should continuously work towards them. Consequently, you can maintain them over time and implement them throughout your entire life.

The values a person upholds act as compasses that guide them towards what matters to them. This allows for a connection between what they value and what they do, which gives rise to well-being.

Components

Acceptance and commitment therapy engages the acceptance of values based on four components:

  • Values (what you value or want). For example, family, friends, generosity, safety, looking after one’s self, fun, training, or work, among others.
  • Exposure to, not avoidance of, the so-called unwanted internal events. In other words, negative or uncomfortable feelings.
  • Defusion and deactivation of functions. The distancing of unpleasant thoughts and emotions.
  • Reinforcing behaviors that are driven by what you want and value.

Psychologists help patients by searching for thoughts and emotions that scare them and that they avoid. This way, they learn to distance themselves from them and see them for what they really are: thoughts or feelings. Also, they help patients understand that just feeling or thinking something doesn’t mean it actually matters. There are many wasted thoughts and emotions.

Treatment centered on the values for well-being guides changes regarding what patients consider valuable.

A woman crossing a bridge, taking steps to improve her well-being.

Values can lead to action and well-being

Values guide you. They’re beliefs that lead to action. They transcend specific situations and guide behaviors. Thus, the importance of values in psychotherapy represents a combination of verbal rules and consequences of each patient’s history and the commitment made toward them.

Values make it easier for people to make decisions. This, in turn, helps overrule the tendency to be controlled by internal and external demands to avoid discomfort. And all of this contributes to well-being.