People often use the terms values and virtues interchangeably and that is why sometimes it can be hard to determine the differences between the two. However, there are subtle differences between these terms which I will try to explain in this post as simple as possible.
1. Values – What is important to you?
Virtues – What are your inner qualities?
Values refer to ANYTHING that you deem important or valuable to you: family, friends, good relationships, dream job, wealth, power, influence, etc.
Virtues on the other hand are what people typically call inner qualities such as humility, courage, wisdom, temperance, etc.
If you find virtues to be important, then these inner qualities are part of your values in life. For example, most company and organization stated values are virtues such as integrity and ingenuity.
2. Values – Goal
Virtues – Tool
When you assess something to be important, you naturally try to either keep it or chase it. They become the goal of your life. That’s why it’s sometimes important to pay attention to where you put your natural effort into because it could be a good identifier of your values.
If values are goals, virtues are the ones that will help you achieve them. This is not a surprising statement because even the ancient Greek philosophers like Aristotle from 2000 years ago figured out that the most successful people have a lot of virtues. You can think of them as tools in your toolbox you can use especially in times of adversities. For example, if your goal is to be a successful entrepreneur, studies show that you need courage as one of your core virtues. If your goal is to be successful in the stock market, billionaire investor Warren buffet said “you don’t need a lot of IQ but a good temperament.”
3. Values – What you define is good.
Virtues – What people define as good?
Values are subjective. What you assess to be important may not necessarily be important to other people. For example, you may find that money can make you happy while others find it as the root of all evils. You may also find that life is all about making an impact and living a legacy behind while others find it stressful and toxic and therefore are just content with a 9-5 job.
Virtues are what people universally assess as good. From childhood, our parents tried hard to instill good inner qualities in us hoping that we grow up to become good human beings. Society too admires people with virtues and punishes people that have bad inner qualities. Even historically, the Greek and Roman philosophers advised us to chase virtues as they are a key component of having a good life.
4. Values – That which comes naturally to you
Virtues – That which you choose to cultivate
Each of us is unique in our own little way. My guess is that Mother Nature designed that way to put society in order. For example, one man’s value is to create a huge impact so he would take up the challenge of becoming a political leader in his town. Another man’s value is peace of mind so he is fine with being a regular government employee that has less responsibility than the former. The key is to really identify your core values and STAYING TRUE to it. What people say about your value should matter less because they are saying out of their own core values which might be totally different than yours. If you value money because you value your future family’s security, then don’t listen to people who say that it’s evil to accumulate wealth. Your values reflect your nature of being and should be embraced.
Unlike values that are unique to you as an individual and therefore comes naturally to you, virtues are inner qualities that you choose to acquire. I like to think of them as good habits that anyone can learn. You can teach yourself empathy or train yourself to be patient. By reading books and learning from experience you can become wise.
5. Values – can change with time
Virtues – strengthened with time
Values can change in the long term. What you find important at a young age may no longer be as important when you grow old. For example, the majority of us want to explore the world and try different adventures but then studies show that when we get older we tend to prefer staying in one place and enjoying people’s company. We also see these young entrepreneurs who are overly ambitious about changing the world and then when they have reached the pinnacle of their success, step down and shift to philanthropic work and live a simple life when they grow old.
On the other hand, since virtues are learned habits they stick for longer periods of time. You can think of them as mental muscles that get weakened or strengthened depending on how much time you spent enhancing them or not improving them. They cannot change.
I think the most important thing to do is to sit and write down your core values. With so much distraction in the age of social media, it is easy to lose sight of the things we truly value. If you lose sight of them, you might end up chasing the wrong things in life and therefore waste your time. Studies show that people who write their values, either to clarify or to remind them, tend to be happier than those who don’t.
Equally important is to write your core virtues. Remember that virtues are learned habits. The sooner you identify them the earlier you get the chance to practice them.
Mentally memorizing is not enough. You have to write your core values and virtues on a piece of paper and place it so you can be reminded of them on a daily basis.
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