We all have values, but most of us are not aware of them. We acquire them throughout our lives: perhaps we value hard work from watching our father work long hours, or we develop values around relationships after seeing how our parents relationship worked (or didn't!). My friend really values tidiness... as a direct result of being brought up by a mother whose priorities lay elsewhere. And values may change over time - for example, one of my clients who used to value risk and excitement found that security became much more important once she started her family.
Values influence how we spend our time (out with friends.... at work.... volunteering...) and act as our moral compass (Are we faithful? Honest? Reliable?). Sometimes if we are asked to do something and don't feel comfortable about it, it's because it conflicts with our values. At other times, we can have values which themselves are in conflict. For example... how do you decide between two jobs, one of which pays well while the other one provides more opportunities to make a difference when you value financial independence as well as helping others?
Because we inherit and acquire our values - they are not something we consciously choose - we can have values which don't serve us well. Think of someone who values security - they may end up 'stuck' in the wrong job because they are scared to follow their dreams, or staying with the wrong partner because they are afraid to be alone. How many people do you know that are in a relationship or job because they SHOULD be, not because it's what makes them truly happy? Are you one of them? Is 2015 the year you recognise your values and start being true to them?
An understanding of our values and how we rank them helps us when we make decisions... My sister is at university just now and she knows that she values friendship and fun but that success is more important - this is helping her turn down social invites sometimes in order to make sure she passes her exams! If you know that you value family above all else you can use that knowledge when debating whether to go for promotion if it means that you will be away from home more often.
If you want to find out what your values are, it's best to find a partner to help elicit them - the partner then asks you what's important to you about X (life/your relationship/work) and writes them down... they keep asking until you get stuck. Then they keep asking some more! Sometimes it's the values that come in this second wave which are more meaningful. Once you've really come to the end of your list, it's time to rank them from 1 to 10. Then check you've got the order right - get your partner to start with #1 value (say happiness) and ask if it's OK to have that without #2 (e.g. health) if it is, then the order is perfect, if not then you can change the values about. Go over the whole list to make sure the order is right for you, then write the list down: you can refer back to it in the future when you need help making a decision.
One final thought: ask yourself how well you are demonstrating these values in your day to day existence. Give yourself a score from 1 to 10 and ask yourself what do you need to do differently to push that number up? Then go for it! Small changes consistently carried out can make an enormous impact on your positivity levels.