A Mental Exercise to Help You Find Meaning in Your Life

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If you feel lost or unhappy with how your life is playing out, the first step is to start thinking about what you value in life. Going through the process of identifying these core values can empower you to live a life full of meaning and purpose—sometimes referred to as "living intentionally." 

What follows is a mental exercise that is adapted from a popular acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) exercise to help you discover your core values and live a purpose-driven and meaningful life. Though this exercise doesn't take long to complete, if done properly, it can have long-lasting effects in helping you to live a life full of meaning.

Identify Your Core Values

Your core values are those things that are really important and meaningful to you. They are the characteristics and behaviors that motivate you and guide your decisions.

When the way you behave matches your values, life feels full of meaning and purpose. When these two don't align, you're likely to feel dissatisfied with life. This is why it is so important to identify your values.

Your values are influenced by your life experiences and are, therefore, unique to you. There are hundreds of different values, but here is a list of some of the most common ones:

  • Community participation
  • Health/physical well-being
  • Family relationships
  • Friendships and other social relationships
  • Intimate relationships (e.g., marriage, couples)
  • Parenting
  • Personal growth/education/learning
  • Leisure/recreation
  • Spirituality/religion
  • Work/career

Write down every value that resonates with you. Feel free to add your own if your value doesn't appear on the list above.

Be sure to only select values you actually have, not those you wish you had.

Rate Your Values

Once you have come up with your list, the next step is to prioritize the values. Take a look deep inside yourself before ranking each of your values in order of their current importance to you: 0 (not important), 1 (moderately important), or 2 (extremely important).

As you move through life, what you value may change. Or, if your values stay the same, the importance you place on them may shift. For example, when you start college, "personal growth" might be a top priority. But after you have a family, "parenting" may be what you value more.

Ranking your values in order of importance helps you to ensure that you're spending your time and energy on the most important things in your life.

Set Your Intentions

After completing your ratings, pick one or two values that you rated as "extremely important." If you rated every value as "extremely important," go back and think about whether there are one or two values that stand out as more important than the rest, even if it's only by a little bit.

Write a simple statement (one or two sentences) about how you would like to live your life in each of these areas. These statements, which are called intention statements, will help you live a more purposeful life according to your values.

Consider the following examples of intention statements:

  • Work/career: "I want to fully apply myself at work and contribute my best."
  • Health/physical self-care: "I want to live with full vitality and energy every day."
  • Intimate relationships: "I would like to be a kind and caring partner. I would like to say supportive things to my partner when they are feeling down, and I would like to do things for them that will help make their life a little easier. I would also like to act as if I am worthwhile in relationships by asking for the things I need.”

As you can see from these examples, intentions are an ongoing process. They reflect the way you want to live your life over time. They are not just something that can be achieved or "crossed off" your list.

In order for this exercise to work, you have to be completely honest with yourself. Get in touch with your true intentions, not the intentions others have for you.

A Word From Verywell

Discovering your purpose and living life according to your values is no simple feat. It takes work and is not likely to happen overnight. Be patient and give yourself time to figure out what you value, and adjust your actions accordingly.

If you are struggling with this exercise, consider seeing a therapist that practices ACT. A therapist can help you define your values and pinpoint any psychological barriers that are preventing you from living a life with meaning and value.

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2 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Wilson KG, Sandoz EK, Kitchens J, Roberts M. The valued living questionnaire: Defining and measuring valued action within a behavioral framework. Psychol Rec. 2010;60(2):249-272. doi:10.1007/BF03395706

  2. Hayes SC, Strosahl KD, Wilson KG. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy: An Experiential Approach to Behavior Change. Guilford Press; 1999.

Additional Reading

By Kristalyn Salters-Pedneault, PhD
 Kristalyn Salters-Pedneault, PhD, is a clinical psychologist and associate professor of psychology at Eastern Connecticut State University.