Problems arise when your values clash with the dominant values in your family. The clash might be over religious, political, career, or personal values, or, as is so often the case with my creative and performing-artist clients, over whether pursuing a creative career is a reasonable, worthy path or a self-indulgent dead end.
Clashes like this can destroy families. Think of the Civil War, when brothers often took opposite sides and sometimes even killed one another on the battlefield. When your values clash with the dominant values in your family, conflict is inevitable. It may remain repressed and unexpressed, or it may boil over into arguments and estrangements.
Values matter; they possess psychological and emotional importance; and if you feel that someone else’s values are misguided or, worse, base and immoral, you are going to have an ongoing problem with that person. One such value clash occurs when a given family member internally or openly objects to the way that other family members are invested in accumulating material possessions, in caring too much about name brands and designer labels, and in being just plain too crass and acquisitive.
This conflict can be conceptualized as the clash between material values and spiritual values, or between material values and existential values. I see it as the clash between a person who would like to live her life according to her life-purpose choices and other family members who, in her view, are using material things as substitutes for authentic living. If this is your experience, you may hold your peace — and then feel compelled to erupt and act out in the following sorts of situations:
- You think a reasonably priced bottle of wine is appropriate to bring to a dinner party that you’re attending, but your husband insists on getting an expensive, top-shelf bottle whose cost “could feed three starving children for a week.”
- You attend a Christmas party at your sister’s house and are appalled by the large number of presents her children are receiving.
- Your nephew’s bar mitzvah turns out to be an overthe-top, six-figure extravaganza.
- Your wife insists that the kitchen needs updating and remodeling, even though you remodeled it three years ago.
- Your son throws a tantrum because you won’t buy him the hottest new athletic shoes, costing several hundred dollars.
- Your parents, who have refused to let you go on the annual school trip to a theater festival or to rent an oboe for your music class, spend a small fortune on their Hawaiian vacation, gushing to you and your brother about how “very pricey” it will be — as if spending more rather than less were some sort of accomplishment.
In an article called “The Madness of Materialism,” Steve Taylor writes:
Once our basic material needs are satisfied, our level of income makes little difference to our level of happiness. Research has shown, for example, that extremely rich people such as billionaires are not significantly happier than people with an average income, and suffer from higher levels of depression. Researchers in positive psychology have concluded that true well-being does not come from wealth but from other factors such as good relationships, meaningful and challenging jobs or hobbies, and a sense of connection to something bigger than ourselves (such as a religion, a political or social cause, or a sense of mission).
In some families, it is the parents who want things and the children who make faces at their acquisitive nature. Nowadays, with children bombarded with ads and growing ever more brand conscious, it may be the other way around: the children may be the materialist, acquisitive ones, and the parents may be the ones shaking their heads. The authors at Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood report:
Children who are more materialistic are less happy, more depressed, more anxious and have lower self-esteem. Exposure to media and marketing promotes materialistic values in children and is stressful for families.
Conflict between parents and children is directly related to children’s exposure to advertising....
- This generation of children is the most brand- conscious ever. Teenagers today have 145 conversations about brands per week.
- 44% of 4th through 8th graders report daydreaming ‘a lot’ about being rich. Marketers deliberately encourage children to nag their parents for products.
- Nagging accounts for one in three trips to fast food restaurants.
Gaining Clarity About What Promotes Happiness
If you’re dealing with a values conflict like this in your family, your main objective is to stay true to your vision of what matters in life and what constitutes ethical action. One way to do this, and avoid succumbing to the bombardment of inducements to buy the newest, best, and shiniest of everything, is to remember that our emotional well-being flows not from possessions but from our efforts to actually live our life purposes. Use your new skills, especially the skills of clarity and awareness, to help you remember this vital lesson.
Things do not make us happy — and even if they could, living for happiness is not our objective. Living with purpose makes a person happier than trying to be happy! To live for an experience — of joy, of meaning, of pleasure, of happiness, of anything — rather than for a purpose is to put your emotional life in danger, since you are living for temporary outcomes that, even if achieved, provide only fleeting satisfaction. Living your life purposes provides a much deeper satisfaction.
Outcomes like “happiness” become more elusive if you are chasing them. How deeply pleasurable is food if you are always chasing food, always craving food, always hungry for the next potato chip or cinnamon roll? When you were nine, how long did the toy you desperately wanted really amuse you once you received it? We want to be happy, but chasing happiness is not the answer. Doing what matters is the answer!
Consider this study by Steven Cole and his team of researchers, as reported by the Mother Nature Network:
The researchers assessed and took blood samples from 80 healthy adults who were classified as having either hedonic or eudaimonic well-being. Hedonic well-being is defined as happiness gained from seeking pleasure; eudaimonic well-being is that gained by having a deep sense of purpose and meaning in life....The study showed that people who had high levels of eudaimonic well-being showed favorable profiles with low levels of inflammatory gene expression and exhibited a strong expression of antiviral and antibody genes. For the pleasure seekers, the opposite was true; those with high levels of hedonic well-being showed an adverse gene-expression profile, giving high inflammation and low antiviral/ antibody expression.
You achieve this happiness that runs deeper than pleasure seeking by living a life oriented around and in alignment with your life purposes. You identify your life purposes; you announce that you stand behind them; you live them; you create meaning as you live them; and you produce a deep happiness, a happiness that produces physical and emotional health. You aren’t chasing anything — not a bestseller, an orgasm, another high, another conquest, a million dollars: you are simply doing the next right thing in accordance with your understanding of your values and principles. You are quietly and calmly living, rather than avidly chasing.
To live like this, you must believe that you matter. So many of the clients I work with, despite the optimistic face they put on it, don’t really believe that the short story, watercolor, or song that they are struggling so hard to create is really worth the trouble. Does the world really need another short story, watercolor, or song? Why bother? Once you are pestered by the question of whether what you are doing “really” matters, unless the answer is an immediate and unequivocal yes, you will be haunted by that question and experience a meaning crisis.
When this happens, you begin to lose the emotional and physical benefits of living your life purposes because you have begun to doubt them. You’ve pulled the rug out from under yourself, as it were, and you’ve opened yourself up to emotional and physical distress. This is why “meaning repair” is such an important part of the process of healing your heart and keeping yourself well. You must quietly affirm that what you are doing does indeed matter; or, if you have come to believe that it really doesn’t, then you must choose another path. Until you do one of these two things, your emotional health will be threatened, and your life will feel less meaningful.
Making Your Genes Happy!
If we are certain of our purposes, then hard work isn’t a problem. Writing our novel can make us feel sad and ill, so poorly is it going and so much work does it require. Yet our genes may well be singing and dancing, profoundly happy knowing that we are living one of our life purposes. When you doubt that writing your novel matters, say to yourself, “It matters on the genetic level, and I want to make my genes happy!” Who knows if this is literally true? It just might be.
Your genes want you to live with purpose. They want to be “happy” in precisely that way, and you will stay healthier when you live in alignment with your life purposes and, as a result of those efforts, create meaning. Because it is all too easy to doubt our own decisions and life purposes, we regularly pester ourselves about whether what we are attempting is really meaningful, really matters, or really is one of our life purposes. When we do this, we enter an existential dark night of doubt, and then our genes are much less happy. Some sort of sickness is likely coming, such as despair, cravings, or a physical illness.
What must you do when you experience such doubt? You must reinitiate that most basic of conversations, the one where you chat with yourself about your values, principles, and life-purpose choices. If you come around again to believing in your current choice, then you must announce that you intend to make yourself proud through your efforts in the service of that choice. You stand up again. This gesture will make your genes instantly happy! And if you can’t come around to believing in your choice, then you must make a strong new choice. That, too, will please your genes.
Hardly anything is more important than recognizing the connection between living your life purposes and your emotional and physical health. It is physically good for us to live our life purposes. We may one day learn that there is a clear and strict relationship between life purpose and genetic happiness. For now, it is wise to presume that such a relationship exists. Do not chase happiness; live your life purposes instead. That will likely produce the deepest happiness possible!
©2017 by Eric Maisel. All Rights Reserved.
Reprinted with permission of New World Library, Novato, CA.
www.newworldlibrary.com or 800-972-6657 ext. 52.
Overcoming Your Difficult Family: 8 Skills for Thriving in Any Family Situation
by Eric Maisel, Ph.D.
This book serves as a unique “field guide” to common types of dysfunctional families — authoritarian families, anxious families, addicted families, and more — and how to thrive despite those dynamics. You’ll learn to maintain inner peace in the midst of family chaos and create a better life for your whole family.
About the Author
Eric Maisel, PhD, is the author of more than forty works of fiction and nonfiction. His nonfiction titles include Coaching the Artist Within, Fearless Creating, The Van Gogh Blues, The Creativity Book, Performance Anxiety, and Ten Zen Seconds. He writes the "Rethinking Psychology" column for Psychology Today and contributes pieces on mental health to the Huffington Post. He is a creativity coach and creativity coach trainer who presents keynote addresses and life purpose boot camp workshops nationally and internationally. Visit www.ericmaisel.com to learn more about Dr. Maisel.
Watch a video with Eric: How to Make a Meaningful Day
Watch an Interview with author, Eric Maisel