Everyone needs a philosophy of life. Mental health is based on the tension between what
you are and what you think you should become. You should be striving for worthy goals.
Emotional problems arise from being purposeless.
-Victor Frankl (1970)
Why it is hard to deal with values
In contrast with the next chapter on how to eliminate unwanted
habits, dealing with values is fraught with special pitfalls. For example:
There is little research about which values yield the greatest
good for the greatest number of people or about how to change one's
own values or about how to live in accordance with one's basic values.
Few candles have been lit here, thus far. My discipline, psychology,
has not contributed much to our becoming a moral, compassionate
society. Our best thinkers have not even decided the content and
structure of values--what the hell is involved? See Schwartz and Bilsky
(1987). LeShan (1993) tries to explain our failure to reduce wars and
crime or to increase fairness and justice. One might speculate that
many people do not want to research values, preferring to believe
their values are the best.
Most of us have little help in developing a philosophy of life.
Values tend to be picked out in a haphazard, piece-meal fashion from
friends, parents, the media, teachers, popular heroes, and clergy in
that order (Behavior Today, Feb., 1981, p. 8); therefore, values are
frequently contradictory and not logically connected with how we
actually behave. For example, we accept the Golden Rule (do unto
others as you would have them do unto you) but at the same time we
struggle for money and "the good life" for ourselves without much
consideration of the needs of others. We say we value honesty but
cheat on our exams (up to 67%), on our income taxes (38%), and
deceive our best friend (33%). We claim to value being understanding
and forgiving but sometimes become nasty and revengeful. We
supposedly value hard work but procrastinate. We seek a devoted
partner but are unfaithful (45%), etc., etc. (Psychology Today, Nov.
1981, pp 34-50). There are many moral decisions made by each of us
every day and always new moral dilemmas to resolve, mostly on our
own without help.
Perhaps because many people equate values and religion (yet, I
hope it is obvious to you that a person can have very high values--
honesty, loving, giving--without having any religious beliefs in God or
salvation at all), a discussion of our values may be considered an
invasion of our privacy and our personal religious beliefs. Asking a
person why he/she holds a particular moral opinion is encroaching on