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What principles matter to you most?


In our work in the Purpose Lab, we have found that youth tend to choose and sustain engagement in a particular purpose because it is personally meaningful and of interest to them (Liang et al., 2016; Liang et al., 2017). One method of helping people identify what is personally meaningful to them is through the exploration of their core values. 


Core values are the essential higher-level beliefs and ideals that people hold to be true about themselves and the world (Schwartz, 2012). We learn and internalize core values from formative relationships, cultural backgrounds, and specific lived experiences (Smolicz, 1981). When these values are internalized, they shape self-concept (Hitlin, 2003), as well as one’s actions, behaviors, and decisions. 


Values and goals are different concepts, but Emmons (1989) suggested that values organize goals. For example, a single conception of the ideal (e.g., to grow as a person) could lead to several specific goals (e.g., to enter psychotherapy, to meditate, to keep a reflective journal).

Key Terms

Key Terms

Values: Cognitive representatives of who you are at the core (ie. compass that keeps you headed in a desired direction)

Goals: The motivational aims of your values (ie. specific way you want to execute your values)

Extrinsic Values: values centered on external approval or rewards (ex. wealth, fame, status)

Intrinsic Values: values that are rewarding in and of themselves (ex. adventure, creativity)

Ask Yourself...

Ask Yourself...

What principles guide your life?

What are your core values?

Where do your core values come from?

What life experiences (positive and negative) have influenced your core values? 

How does your life align with your core values? 

Where do you live your core values?

How do people express their core values? How does that differ among diverse populations?





You stand up and stick by those who are closest to you.

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You work hard to accomplish goals that are valued by you and your community.



You enjoy exploring the unknown and want to experience as much of the world as possible.

Why does this matter?

Why does this matter?

Reflecting on and affirming your core values is associated with:

  • Establishing a perception of personal integrity and worth (Harackiewicz et al., 2014)

  • Buffering against challenges and reducing stress (Harackiewicz et al., 2014)

  • Improving academic performance (Cohen et al., 2006)

  • Protecting against the Stereotype Effect (Miyake et al., 2010)


Additionally, prioritizing intrinsic values are associated with:

  • higher levels of well-being and lower levels of stress (Niemiec, Ryan, & Deci, 2009)

  • lower levels of depression, anxiety, and more meaningful long-term relationships (Deci & Ryan, 2000)



Cohen, G. L., Garcia, J., Apfel, N., & Master, A. (2006). Reducing the racial achievement gap: a social-psychological intervention. Science (New York, N.Y.), 313(5791), 1307–1310.

Harackiewicz, J.M., Tibbetts, Y., Canning, E. and Hyde, J.S. (2014). Harnessing Values to Promote Motivation in Education. Advances in Motivation and Achievement, 18. Vol. 18)

Hitlin, S. (2003). Values as the core of personal identity: Drawing links between two theories of self. Social Psychology Quarterly, 66, 118. doi:10.2307/1519843

Kasser, T. and Ahuvia, A. (2002), Materialistic values and well‐being in business students. Eur. J. Soc. Psychol., 32: 137-146. doi:10.1002/ejsp.85

Liang, B., Lund, T. J., Mousseau, A., White, A., Spencer, R., & Walsh, J. (2017). Adolescent girls finding purpose: The role of parents and pro-sociality. Youth & Society,

1–17. doi:10.1177/0044118X17697850

Liang, B., White, A., Mousseau, A., Hasse, A., Knight, L., Berado, D., & Lund, T. (2016). The four P’s of purpose among college bound students: People, propensity, passion, and pro-social benefits. Journal of Positive Psychology, 12(3), 281–294. doi:10.1080/17439760 .2016.1225118

Miyake, A., Kost-Smith, L. E., Finkelstein, N. D., Pollock, S. J., Cohen, G. L., & Ito, T. A. (2010). Reducing the gender achievement gap in college science: A classroom study of values affirmation. Science, 330(6008), 1234-1237.

Niemiec, C. P., Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2009). The Path Taken: Consequences of Attaining Intrinsic and Extrinsic Aspirations in Post-College Life. Journal of research in personality, 73(3), 291–306.

Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. The American psychologist, 55(1), 68–78.

Schwartz, S. H. (2012). An overview of the Schwartz theory of basic values. Online Readings in Psychology and Culture, 2(1), 1–20.

Smolicz, J. (1981). Core values and cultural identity. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 4(1), 75–90. doi:10.1080/01419870.1981.9993325

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