I ask the question "what is the value of life itself?" and I am struck with the preposterousness of the question, as it seems obvious and beyond question that life has value, as it is "it all", the whole enchilada...
But then many people don't see what the value of life is.
WHAT DOES "VALUE" MEAN?
Definition: "That quality of a thing acccording to which it is thought of as being more or less desirable, useful, estimable, important, etc; worth or the degree of worth. That which is desirable or worthy of esteem for its own sake; thought of as having instrinsic worth (worth in itself)
So, the value of something is the value that we conjure up in our minds as something that is desirable.
Or is it?
What if we get to what we thought would be of a certain value and we find out it doesn't have that value?
We are, indeed, poor at estimating the consequences of something and, also, of what it takes to be happy.
So value might not be whatever value we assign to it. And when we get what we thought we valued, we might not actually get that same value. We will be corrected. We can't get it all correct ahead of time, but we can limit how much effort we put into what will not give us enough value.
We would best list down all that we value. And then prioritize it by highest value first and so on down the list. (You could even assign "value units", like from 1-10 or 1- 100.)
But once you have done the initial list, then you would best review it in order to test it - and it would be best if you had someone who is knowledge actually review it, too, so that you might find out something that you didn't adequately correct.
Wouldn't it be foolish to base your life on what was not truly of value to you? Many people do, and they come up short.
AND ULTIMATELY WE DETERMINE WHAT THE VALUE IS - BUT HOPEFULLY NOT TOO LATE!
Since nothing has meaning in and of itself and since we are "meaning making machines", we create the meaning and then we hold it as having that meaning (value).
Does that sound a bit circular?
Well, that's because it is.
And there are ways of increasing the value of any one thing...
When we appreciate something, such as being grateful for it or acknowledging it's desirability, then we are valuing it. We are adding value to our original value by intentionally appreciating it. ("Appreciating", in investments, means "increasing in value.)
THE ORIGINAL QUESTION WAS...
I started this piece based on someone questioning the value of life itself, and implicitly questioning what the pieces are that make it valuable.
So, this is my final answer...
SO, THE VALUE OF LIFE ITSELF IS...
If we were not alive, we could not experience 'value'.
So, the value of being alive is that we get to appreciate our experiences - and experience our appreciating.
The value of life, then, is: The experience of the parts of life.
Though there are no real threats that persist in life, we do have some tiny little bits of time where we "suffer" from "uncomfortable" experiences when there is a real threat. At those points, we are left with the only viable option being to pay attention to the chemical signal (caused by sensing a threat) and handle the real threat as well and as quickly as possible. Then it is over, quickly.
In his book "Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers" and in his actual studies, stress expert Robert Sapolsky notes that (paraphrased): "The zebra runs from the tiger. Then it's over. The fear is no longer active. And he grazes calmly..."
We would operate the same way, only responding to the rare actual threats, but, instead, we allow many false beliefs to cause us to create our very own illusory threats, accompanied by a continual conversation that renews the threat (as an emotion will persist without reinforcement for less than 90 seconds). If an emotion persists, then it is ourselves that our renewing them.
So, our mission as humans must be to learn how things actually work and to eliminate the false fears that cause the uncomfortableness of life. They subtract from the great experiences that are a natural part of life. But we can eliminate the great majority or even almost all of them, by going through and correcting our beliefs and our totally incorrect anticipations. Read Threats And "Fear" - Differentiating As To What Is A Real Threat and then persist long enough to learn and decide that you will not engage in the illusory fears. Those fears are what make some people be very miserable - and then they interpret life as being innately painful and not of positive value. But, I'm saying that we can handle and eliminate those things that are simply "mental constructs" and not real, so that we very seldom have negative feelings. Indeed, what the Buddha says is true: "Pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional."
Again, when one has proper perspective, one no longer holds onto some created fear for the future. However, animals do not do this. The threat is perceived, they run or fight like hell, when it's finished they go back to eating the grass, calmly. There is no added advantage for humans, also, to continue the concern.
And we can appreciate the signal that we got from our miraculous signal/awareness system. And then we can appreciate just being alive.
When we eliminate the unnecessary subtractors, our "net" positives of life increase dramatically!!!!
WE CAN APPRECIATE:
Doing something we value (i.e. something that produces value, such as helping to make someone feel good or helping to make ourselves feel good).
Discovery (Wow! I never knew that. Isn't it mahvelous! Or, gee I can really use that, to produce something of value!)
Beauty, pleasing the senses
How things work the way they do
A feeling of pleasure, eating, soothing, warmth, sex, seeing...
And on and on and on.
This value exists virtually all the time, as we experience life itself - if we appreciate it.
A WORD ABOUT THE PROCESS OF DISVALUING
In investments, if there is an increase in value, we call that appreciation of the investment. When equipment wears out a bit, we call that 'depreciation' of the equipment.
In our mind, we can choose to appreciate something, which means we, in a sense, 'add value'.
In our mind, we can 'depreciate' somethings, which means we substract part of the value.
It is strictly our choice.
But we set up a way of living life that is actually dysfunctional and non-workable, at cross purposes with life itself. We thought it was "survival", when we were little kids, to do what is right and what will keep us fed and protected. Pulling away from it now, as an adult, I see that the things I saw as threats were actually just signals to pay attention to in order to get more of what I wanted and/or to avoid getting less of what I wanted.
I now see that I have enough, always, and that I need not fear losing anything - that I am always ok and safe when I am in existence (when I'm not in existence, then there is, of course, no threat, so there is no lack of safety, nothing to worry about). The only question is how much the bonuses will be. (See What I Have, For Sure.)
I have no choice in having myself stay on earth. I will depart at some point, for sure. Meanwhile, I 'get to' experience life - and how I experience life is totally madeup by me, so I can experience it anyway I want to. [I may have to unlearn some 'bad' meaning I erroneously picked up from those around me or made up and then thought of it as a truth.)
THE VALENCE WE ADD
We give some things a negative 'valence' and some a positive 'valence' - but be clear that we are the ones making that 'valence'. Yes, there are some things that naturally have a seemingly negative 'valence', so that we are moved to solve that 'problem' (to get rid of a negative 'feeling') - as it evolved to motivate us toward doing things that improved survival. (
Of course, 'valence' is just another word for value, though it is typically associated with emotions. But there is implicitly nothing 'wrong' with any emotion, as it gets us in motion toward something that is desirable - unless we have screwed up the meaning of some things relative to survival (which, of course, we have done!).
We have moods. We 'make up' that some are bad, that they 'shouldn't be', but in fact they are just chemical states of being that persist because we have a habit around them and/or because they served a purpose for our survival. But there is nothing implicitly 'bad' about them. They just 'are'. It is not true that you "shouldn't have this mood" (and/or that there is something wrong in this life or something wrong in you for not making sure you don't have it..).
That is very philosophical and mystical sounding, I would guess.
But isn't it true?
There is no meaning until we added it. It is not a 'given' by some mysterious source. Moods have purposes in nature, so that is just the way it is. Not bad, maybe good (as they serve a purpose!).
If you studied Buddhism and unraveled some of the mystical sounding wording, you could see why there is no meaning implicit in things and that we have a total choice about that (once we become smart enough to see it) and that you can create your experience of life any way you want it to be. Buddhism's basic philosophical grounding (before they added a bit of mystical to it) is absolutely true, in my opinion, after all of my studies. And... doesn't it make sense that there was alot of thought that went into it over the centuries and centuries that it has been examined and made even more solid?!!!