How to Live by Your Values & Pursue Meaningful Desires

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Wanting" by Luke Burgis. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Want to know how to live by your values? Why is it so important? What are some strategies that can help you?

Luke Burgis’s book Wanting explains how “mimetic desire”—imitating what other people want or have—impacts our ability to live according to our values. He argues that increasing your awareness of mimetic desire will empower you to pursue life’s most meaningful desires and live by your values.

Read on to learn more about how to live by your values, according to Burgis’s theory.

Living by Your Values

Once you’ve clarified your values in life, your next step is to ensure those values inform your decisions, says Luke Burgis. In his book Wanting, Burgis acknowledges that this is easier said than done: We often find ourselves in situations where we must choose among competing desires or values. For instance, after retiring from your full-time job, you may be unsure whether to pursue your desire to travel abroad by yourself or pursue your desire to spend more time with family. In this article, we’ll explain how to deal with such dilemmas and live by your values, based on the advice found in Burgis’s book.

How to Prioritize Your Values

To ensure you prioritize the most meaningful values in these situations, Burgis claims that you should rank them. He defines a value as something important to you that shapes your specific desires. For instance, valuing ambition may shape your specific desire of taking on a challenging project. When you’re deciding among competing desires, refer to your ranked values and determine which desire aligns with your highest-ranking value.

For example, imagine you’re a novelist who values both honesty and ambition, but you rank honesty slightly above ambition because you’d never want to lie to boost your career. One day, your ranking is put to the test when your friend makes a comment about a fascinating idea for a novel. Your ambition tempts you to turn this idea into a book. This desire puts your value of ambition in conflict with your value of honesty because the book idea was your friend’s, not yours. Because honesty ranks higher in your list of values, you decide that, to live by your values, you should let this novel idea go.

(Shortform note: It may feel difficult to come up with your list of values to inform how you prioritize meaningful challenges. Consider reviewing a list of personal values, identifying your top five values, and ranking those five values. For instance, James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, provides a list of 50 values, such as “creativity,” “justice” and “wealth.”)

Support Others in Pursuing Their Values

Finally, Burgis claims that we have a responsibility to support others in living by their values. Because desire is mimetic, we can’t avoid influencing others—therefore, we must ensure our influence on others is positive

(Shortform note: In The Courage to Be Disliked, Ichiro Kishimi and Fumitake Koga argue that supporting others—specifically, being useful to them—is the number one way to ensure you continue to live by your values and lead a happy life. They explain that happy people derive long-term satisfaction from contributing to others’ happiness. Therefore, supporting others to pursue meaningful desires and live according to their values could even be one of your own values.)

According to Burgis, you can achieve this by sharing stories about meaningful moments in your life. A meaningful moment is a time in your life when you successfully took an action that got you closer to fulfilling one of your meaningful desires. When others hear you share about living by your values and how your efforts had positive benefits, mimetic desire will inspire them to chase their own meaningful desires.

For example, imagine you’re a therapist, and a therapist-in-training has been hired to your team. Once you know each other, share with them about a meaningful moment from work, such as a time you supported one of your patients by empathizing with them about trauma you both share. Tell your colleague that this moment connects to your desire to live by your values by building authentic relationships with your clients. Hearing this story may inspire your colleague to adopt this same value or come up with a related value of their own.

(Shortform note: There may be moments when you’re reluctant to share your personal story with another—for instance, when you’re early in a relationship with someone (such as a coworker) or when you want to maintain professional boundaries. In these situations, consider supporting others to pursue meaningful desires by sharing other people’s inspiring stories about meaningful moments. For instance, you could recommend a book in which the author reflects on meaningful moments or recommend an inspiring interview. Organizations such as Storycorps provide easy access to brief, memorable stories of meaningful moments that you could recommend to others.)

How to Live by Your Values & Pursue Meaningful Desires

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Luke Burgis's "Wanting" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full Wanting summary:

  • Why we want the things that we want
  • How our desires are influenced by what other people want or have
  • Strategies for living a more meaningful life by taking control of what we want

Emily Kitazawa

Emily found her love of reading and writing at a young age, learning to enjoy these activities thanks to being taught them by her mom—Goodnight Moon will forever be a favorite. As a young adult, Emily graduated with her English degree, specializing in Creative Writing and TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language), from the University of Central Florida. She later earned her master’s degree in Higher Education from Pennsylvania State University. Emily loves reading fiction, especially modern Japanese, historical, crime, and philosophical fiction. Her personal writing is inspired by observations of people and nature.

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