I want, I need, I must have, If only I could get…do any of these sound familiar? All of these phrases come in about a ten minute time span of shoe shopping with my teen daughter. It is not a crime to enjoy ‘things” and to indulge ourselves in things that we enjoy, but there is often a disconnect between the value we place on the wants and needs over what truly fuels our life-zest fire.

Defining Value

As a noun, value can be defined as a placed importance, usefulness, an advantage of having in one’s possession, a significance that provides profit or gain, something that puts the advantage to the good side, or a set of principles for one to judge life. As a verb, value can be defined as an estimated worth in monetary value, a cognitive process of valuing personal inputs and introspection. So here-in lays the dilemma. On one hand we see that value is related to tangibles (worth, price and bottom lines), while on the other hand value is related to non-tangibles (influences our life through experiences and holistic impacts). Wouldn’t it stand to reason that filling one’s basket with an abundant of either or I would bring abundant happiness? If that were the case, then those who could afford such luxury liners and private jets would have the market corner on happiness. But we know this is not always the case. There are four groups of people: high monetary/ happy, low monetary/happy, high monetary/sad, and low monetary/sad. While the research shows that money, as a means to secure basic comforts in life is related to well-being, it also reveals that happiness does not increase proportionally to increasing monetary wealth. So what is the thread that binds?

Ponder this:

What type of value do you rely most on to judge your life happiness? Do you associate happiness with tangibles or non-tangibles? If we know we like having “things” (hey, I love things, so no judging here), is it the tangible things that provide the lingering happiness? Hold that thought and let’s dig a little deeper; what do you really think? To find your true fuel, it only takes two simple questions:

What are you willing to give up?  /  What aren’t you willing to give up?

Now given that we all expect to live a long and healthy life, this may seem a little difficult to sort through the pluses and minuses; let me make this a little easier for you. Read through the following definitions and then set them to the following given scenarios:

Tangibles: items predictable by touch, material in matter or physical basis (IPhone, Gucci purse, Camaro, boats, jewelry…)
Non-tangibles: not defined by ability to touch: freedom, spirit, experiences, memories, imagination, love, sunlight, sound, air…
Reminder: What can you do without? What can’t you do without?

Scenario 1- You are fleeing from your present living situation and have 24 hours to prepare: What are you willing to give up? What aren’t you willing to give up?
Scenario 2- You have been given the choice to take all of your possessions, or all of your family to your new homeland: What are you willing to give up? What aren’t you willing to give up?
Scenario 3- A loved one has just died: What are you willing to give up? What aren’t you willing to give up?

See your true fuel in life

In some scenarios you might have chosen to keep the cell phone, the jewelry and other tangibles if possible. Why did you choose to keep them? The cell phone keeps us connected to non-tangibles; the ability for sound waves to transfer the voices of loved ones. The pieces of jewelry connect non-tangible experiences: a marriage, an heirloom, or a sentimental gift. In the last scenario all probably dissipated quickly but for the love and memories. While the events leading to the memories certainly include tangibles, it is not the tangible’s that provide the lingering fuel to happiness; it is the bridges created to the intangibles such as memories that truly ignite and keep your happiness alive.

The “stuck” phenomenon often happens when a person places exclusive value on tangibles as a means to provide happiness over recognizing the true worth that is being created in the non-tangible. So while I certainly love a fabulous new pair of shoes and shoe shopping with my daughter, the touch of feel of the new shoes will never out-weigh the memory of the excited “drama”-teen engulfed in an endless stack of clearance shoes.

About the author: Dr. Lynn Soots has been teaching psychology at the higher education level for over ten years. She is proud to integrate Positive Psychology applications in each of her courses to support growth and student goal attainment. She specializes in higher education online course-room design, adult learning, and diversity appreciation.


‘We are the Positive Psychology People’

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