Connection not disconnection: Assessing our values
This world in which we live can be a rewarding but also demanding and crazy place. Living within our society, busily getting on with our working lives, home lives, social lives and other pursuits, it’s all too easy to lose track of ourselves and our values, and over the longer term, this disconnection increases our chances of feeling depressed and anxious.
So, how do we reset ourselves to feel more connected and centred, as we generally can’t do much about the busyness and competing demands in our lives. If we become more aware of our motivations, we can feel happier within this society. It comes down to understanding the intrinsic versus extrinsic values that motivate us.
Extrinsic goals are based on all sorts of things that society, often through advertising, tells us that we need. A great car, a nice house in a good suburb, or a better job with more money. In contrast, intrinsic goals include being a better friend, showing more love to our partner, or getting involved in charitable activities. Interestingly, research has shown time and time again, that all the things that society tells us will lead to a better life, such as a prestigious job or a nice house in a nice suburb, actually correspond with higher levels of depression and anxiety. However, achieving goals relating to our intrinsic values, such as learning a new skill for the joy of learning, or focusing on being a more considerate human being, leads to an increase in wellbeing and lowered rates of anxiety and depression.
So, what does this actually mean?
All the things that society keeps telling us we need to strive for might, in fact, be making us more anxious and generally unhappier. The more materialistic or extrinsically motivated we become (which is an easy trap to fall into) the unhappier we are. What is worse is that despite the evidence that shows this relationship, society continues to push these extrinsic values onto us, with a continual focus on extrinsic achievements as being a measure of success in life.
One of the reasons that has been suggested for the negative effect of being extrinsically motivated is that in the pursuit of ‘things’ or status, we lose track of the innate needs we have. Our innate needs include feeling connected, secure, to feel that we make a difference, to feel autonomous and to feel that we are good at something. It could be said that people who are more materialistic, or more extrinsically motivated, are chasing a way of life that doesn’t address these innate needs, leaving a pervasive feeling of emptiness. It seems that the more we think life is about having stuff and status, the more depressed and anxious we become.
When asked what brings happiness and contentment in life, I think that the majority of people know that an important aspect is connection with others and personal growth. However, we live in a society that is very focused on extrinsically driven values and this makes it very difficult within our culture to focus on connections and people.