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Personal Core Values: What Is Important to You in Life?

People are always saying it’s “what’s inside that counts”. It’s often heard in situations where someone is rejected because of how they look, or when someone doesn’t feel comfortable in their own skin. So inner values are presented as a kind of consolation. But what are personal core values? Do they reflect a person’s character? And how can we influence our own personal core values so that they become visible to others and enrich our lives?

What are personal core values?

When we speak of values, we sometimes make a distinction by referring to them as “inner” values. In fact, this is superfluous.

Because the value we assign to a quality or to an external object always exists inside us – that is, in our thoughts and feelings. Valuing is a process that takes place in our mind. A value is something that’s important to us.

It may be something tangible, like a new car or our best friend. But values can also be qualities that exist independently of concrete things and, in a sense, lie behind them. Does that sound a bit complicated and theoretical? Then let’s explore how it works in practice.

Examples of personal core values

Love, joy, self-care, attractiveness, sensuality, responsibility, admiration – these are all examples of values. It’s true that these are very broad terms that can imply all kinds of meanings. That’s what makes personal core values so valuable!

Indeed, “love” can refer to love for a friend, family, for oneself or even for a pet. Likewise, admiration might be about the new car you’re driving – but it’s just as possible to earn admiration by helping others.

It’s crucial that values are so “generic”, because that’s what allows us to incorporate values into our lives in so many different ways.

Suppose we’re not able to take on the responsibility to raise a family of our own because we haven’t found a suitable partner or our wish to have children remains unfulfilled. We can still practise the personal core value “responsibility” differently, for example by taking on responsibility at work or as a volunteer.

Of course, we often unconsciously attach very specific conditions to our values, such as: I definitely want to raise a family of my own in order to have meaningful responsibility. But in the long run, it’s always possible to reconsider and accept the circumstances of our lives. That doesn’t mean we can’t live our values, we just do so in a different way than we imagined. But why should we live our values at all? What exactly does it achieve?

Why values are important

Of course, there are many things in life that we enjoy. But what really brings us long-term satisfaction and fulfilment is when our activities and lifestyle reflect our personal core values. And bear in mind that our values may also change in the course of our lives and play a different role in different situations.

A dinner with friends can be enjoyable, but it takes on a completely different meaning when, for example, one of our core values is connectedness. Then we can give ourselves a fundamental sense of satisfaction by regularly inviting people to these gatherings and deliberately cultivating our social relationships.

Aligning your life with your own values can be the key to feeling more positive about life.

By the way, this will also lead you to answer the question: What do I actually want? So how do we come to know our own values?


What are my values?

The best way to get in touch with your personal core values is to start by dividing your daily life into different areas.

For instance, you could distinguish between work, leisure/hobbies, relationships and personal development. Of course, these areas overlap and you don’t have to keep them strictly separate.

Now, for each area, imagine a past situation in which you felt completely fulfilled and at one with yourself. You might not have been feeling especially happy, what counts is the feeling of personal contentment.

When you have noted the 4 situations, ask yourself for each one: What qualities are present or am I demonstrating in this situation? What qualities are significant here? What am I standing for in this moment, what am I embodying?

Some of the answers might surprise you: empathy, sustainability, caring, creativity, intuition, relaxation – go with your gut feeling and choose one or two values for each area of your life.

How can I live according to my personal core values?

When you’ve identified your 4-8 values, you can think about the kind of activities and lifestyle that really suit you. What can I change or what can I strengthen and make even more present in my everyday life? How can I make even the minor choices that punctuate an average day more closely aligned with my values?

It may become clear to you immediately, or you may have to experiment a little. You might notice that a personal core value you’ve chosen doesn’t fit you after all. Perhaps it merely reflects what other people expect of you.

Therefore, look at each day as a new opportunity to improve your life – not in the sense of self-optimisation, but in terms of doing what feels right and valuable to you.

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Our articles are written by psychologists and reviewed by psychotherapists.