What values do we consider as we begin a new year?
Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve always loved the holidays. My husband makes fun of me because I often start listening to Christmas music well before Thanksgiving. It is admittedly a very busy, even chaotic, time of the year but I love every minute of it; writing every card, baking every cookie and even moving that elf every night. Over the last few years, having little kids has forced me to slow down at the holidays a little and has given me the opportunity to experience it through them. It is certainly a wonderful mindfulness experience for me, but perhaps even more significantly it forces me to think about what I really value both about the holidays, but also in my life in general. I can’t do everything, and so I have to think about what is most important to me, and what will create the greatest sense of meaning in my life.
It’s a question that we are always trying to answer in DBT; what brings meaning to us and how do we
create a life for ourselves that is reflective of that? There are a number of different catch phrases or
slogans associated with DBT, and one that we talk about a lot is the concept of creating a “life worth
living.” As Marsha Linehan discusses in the skills training manual, we start with the idea that all life is
worth living, but what is important is that we view our own lives as meaningful and satisfying, and that
that will mean different things to different people. When we first begin working with someone,
identifying what a life worth living would look like to them is one of the first things that we do. After all,
it is hard to create a road map if you don’t know the destination.
When we come up with that destination of a life worth living, then we can figure out how to get there
and what’s been getting in the way. I especially love doing this exercise with young adults that I work
with. Like all of us, they have been raised according to the values of their family of origin- some strongly
identify with those same values, while others don’t really feel connected to them for a variety of
reasons. It’s very powerful to be part of their realization that, as adults, they get to choose what values
they want to guide their lives. I notice that many of the young adults I work with immediately begin to
feel a sense of hope and motivation when they are able to identify values. This is often transformative
for young adults who feel stuck, especially in comparison to their peers.
No matter our age, this experience of figuring out what makes each of our lives worth living is such a
perfect starting point for DBT work. With our destination in mind, we can set a course and figure out
how to go from the abstract big values to the concrete things we can do in our daily lives to experience a
sense of meaning and joy. It’s certainly a fitting exercise to do especially at this time of the year; to think
about how we want to spend our energy through the busy holiday season and to reflect on what values
we choose to guide us as we begin a new year.