A model of where value, meaning, importance, and purpose come from

May 2, 2013 by Joshua
in Awareness, Exercises, Models

[This post is part of a series on “Mental models and beliefs: an exercise to identify yours.” If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

You hear about values-based leadership, living based in their values, giving meaning to their teams, having meaning in their lives, having purpose in their endeavors.

If I asked you your values, you could probably mention your family, projects, friends, making the world a better place, security, and a few things like that. If I asked what gave you meaning or purpose or what was important, you’d probably give a similar list. You might not list money or television, but many people spend a lot of time, attention, and other resources on them.

Besides listing a few values, things that bring meaning and purpose, and things that are important, can you define value meaning, importance, and purpose? Can you say where they come from?

If can’t define them, it’s hard to create more of them. Today’s model clarifies and defines them. I posted on them at length before.

What do the terms mean?

All of these terms — value, meaning, importance, purpose — imply something affecting your life. After all, if something doesn’t affect your life, can you say it meets one of those terms?

If something changes your life, it means you do something different because of it than you would have otherwise. It means it changes your motivations. Motivations mean emotions.

The more something has value, meaning, purpose, or importance, the more it motivates you. Emotions have characteristics, like intensity, complexity, and how long they last. The characteristics of the emotions something evokes describe the thing’s value, meaning, purpose, and importance to you.

Your values, meaning, purpose, and importance are yours alone. You can’t force someone else to adopt yours. You probably don’t feel you have much control over these things, but recognize they change with time and your environment. These are properties of emotions.

Let’s look at emotional characteristics and value Something that evokes happiness, reward, or other emotions you like is something you value. If it creates long-term emotions it has long-term value. If it evokes no emotions, it has no value. If it evokes hatred, anger, or an emotion you don’t like you might say it has negative value. If it evokes complex or intense emotions, you’d say the thing’s value was complex or intense.

In other words, a thing’s value derives from the emotions it evokes. The same follows for meaning, importance, and purpose. While the four terms aren’t perfect synonyms, for today’s post we can use them that way. In fact, I’m going to coin the term MVIP for meaning, value, importance, and purpose in this blog and see if it sticks.

For example, something with enduring MVIP, like a family connection, has enduring emotion. That’s where its value comes from. Out of billions of cute kids in the world, what makes my nieces and nephews have more MVIP to me? The time we spent together developing emotions. Same with you and your family, pets, job, possessions, etc.

Likewise, what you don’t value or attach MVIP to evokes little emotions.

A model of where value, meaning, importance, and purpose come from: They describe the emotions they evoke in you — their intensity, how long they last, and their complexity

Why bother defining these concepts in terms of emotions? Because so many people have vague ideas of these concepts, yet you have perfect access to your emotions. In fact, since you feel them directly, not through a fallible medium like sight, sound, smell, and so on, you have better access to your emotions than anything external.

In other words, the better you know your emotions the better you know your MVIP.


If you want more MVIP in your life, learn emotions.

If you want to know something’s MVIP to you, think of what emotions it evokes and the characteristics of those emotions.

Knowing to look at your emotions can keep you from distractions like what other people say you should value, what you used to value another time, or other unrelated things. Only your emotions matter.

When I use this belief

I use this belief when I examine my life and what I want in it.

What this belief replaces

This belief replaces misunderstanding or vague understanding of the most important parts of your life — MVIP — with precise understanding of it.

It replaces valueless things in your life with valuable things.

It replaces meaningless things in your life with meaningful things.

It replaces unimportant things in your life with important things.

It replaces purposeless things in your life with purposeful things.

Where this belief leads

This belief leads to understanding and having more MVIP in your life.

This model simplifies your life by clarifying the most important parts.

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1 response to “A model of where value, meaning, importance, and purpose come from

  1. Pingback: Mental models and beliefs: an exercise to identify yours » Joshua Spodek

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