Iris Mini: Clarifying and Expressing Personal Values

Cancer can prompt us to reflect on what is most important to us, including what personal values we hold. Getting clear about what matters most, what you believe, and the values by which you live your life, and sharing this with those who are most important to you can often bring purpose and meaning. Here are some ideas for ways to express and clarify personal values.

Engage in a values identification exercise

  • Take some time to look at and reflect on a list of values.

  • Notice what words jump out at you – what words resonate with you and how you live your life?

  • Think about times when you’ve lived those values in your life – what were you doing, how were you behaving, what were you saying?

  • Make a list of the values you find yourself exhibiting the most in your life and take some time to reflect on which you’d want to pass on to others.

Clarify your values

Here are some questions and writing prompts to consider around values. Answering these questions with a trusted person in your life or using these questions as a journal prompt can help with clarifying your values.

  • What are some of the most important lessons you learned in your life?

  • Difficult or stressful experiences can teach important lessons. What have you learned during the most difficult or stressful experiences in your life?

  • Do you see any turning points or key events or experiences that changed the course of your life?

  • What would you say are the major values or principles that you live by?

  • How do you treat those you love most? How do you treat those you do not like?

  • How have you been treated, and how has other peoples’ treatment of you affected you?

  • What delights you? What do you love doing? When you’re doing the things you love most, how do you act?

  • Think of a person you look up to. What values does that person hold? Have you taken on any of those values or beliefs in your own life?


Developing an “ethical will” is one way of recording your personal values and beliefs for posterity. The idea of it is to leave behind wisdom for future generations, in the same way that material goods are left behind through a legal will. Ethical wills are often written in the form of a letter to posterity – the resources below have a few examples to help you get started. The major components of an ethical will are:

  • To reflect on how you’ve lived and how you wish to live

  • To give and ask for love

  • To pass on what you don’t want forgotten

  • To forgive and be forgiven

  • To remember and be remembered

  • To leave behind something personal and distinctive for friends and family

These are a few ways to begin to clarify what’s most important to you and what values you uphold in your everyday life. Understanding these values can help when you are faced with making decisions – they can be an anchor to helping you answer difficult questions and can be a part of the legacy you can impart to those you care about most. You may consider scheduling a visit with an Iris mental health therapist to help you with values exploration.