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Ayn Rand, Happiness, Values, and My Confusion

February 15th, 2013 by Bob Burg

Ayn Rand Stamp

“Happiness is that state of consciousness which proceeds from the achievement of one’s values.”
– Ayn Rand

I love that quote. I wonder (though, I’m not sure) if it would be even more accurate to say, “…from living ‘in accordance with’ one’s values.”

So, I asked friends on my Facebook page, “does that add to it? Subtract from it? Make no difference? I’m stuck on what she means by ‘achieving {a} value.’ It seems to me that we achieve goals; we live according to (or, in accordance with) our values. On the other hand, she was so brilliant, I have no doubt there is something I’m missing.”

As usual, I received tons of excellent, wisdom-filled responses. I wish there were space enough here to include all of them, but these were a few of the many exceptional ones:

Robert Brandt suggested that “achievement, in this context, was meant for {the important things in your life} that you conquer and makes you happy no matter how minute.”

Rory Sturm said, “each day we wake up we work towards the values we have set for ourselves…When we go to bed that evening knowing that we have achieved those values, we are at peace with ourselves and happy.”

Jarrod Cash opined, “I think that is what Rand meant, because the achievement of ones values requires living in daily accordance with them, it’s not a one time accomplishment, but an ongoing effort.”

Taiwo Ayodele Ajayi offered, “It reads to me like Ms. Rand wished to emphasize the conflict between having values and being true to them.”

Shimshon Meir Frankel proffered, “All of our thoughts and actions are an outgrowth of what we value. I would just add that real fulfillment in life comes from living in accordance to what we ‘truly’ value.”

Mike Petrusek suggested that “our values are contained within our philosophy and our values dictate our conduct.”

As Chip Sigmon and I both agreed, Ms. Rand often phrased things in counter-intuitive ways that caused one to really have to think about what she truly meant. And, since many choose not to think, her ideas were often rejected out-of-hand.

Unlike most admirers of Ms. Rand, I place the responsibility for that on her, since she had such an important message to share with the “masses” yet seemed to purposely make herself difficult to understand. But, that’s another topic.

Meanwhile, what are your thoughts about her quote and how do you achieve…or, live in accordance with, your values?

25 Responses to “Ayn Rand, Happiness, Values, and My Confusion”
  1. Hi Bob!

    In my opinion, your approach is more meaningful to me because it’s more aligned with my views on Life.

    Values are meant to be lived. The only way we will “achieve” our Values is by living them.

    My values are Amor, Família e Coragem (that’s the Portuguese words for Love, Family and Courage).

    – How can I achieve Courage?

    By living and leading with integrity by doing the right things.

    It doesn’t mean that I need to perfect. I can’t.

    What it does mean is that when I catch myself doing things wrong (or when others call me out), I have the courage to admit it and make it right.

    – How can I achieve Family?

    By making sure we take care of our people and our costumers on a day-to-day basis. It’s about building a meaningful relationship around a common set of Values that guide everything we do.

    – How can I achieve Love? By being Love, by sharing Love and by living with Love the journey that we’re sharing with our people and our customers.

    And, like Margie Blanchard would say, it’s also about loving ourselves enough to get out of the way so others can become magnificent.

    So, I believe that you’re right Bob. Values are meant to be lived because that’s the only way you can “achieve” them on a daily basis!

  2. Kumar Gauraw said at 11:19 am on

    Perhaps I missed that conversation. But yes, I think I like your approach as well. Living in accordance with one’s values is the key to happiness. That also means that not just we define values for ourselves, but actually live those. So, thank you for your eagle like observation. You are incredible, Bob. Thank you for being so phenomenal!

  3. Esther said at 12:09 pm on

    After years of doing otherwise, I believe I have to value myself first. Happiness = valuing myself first and once I do that I can be of service from a place where I have something of value to offer others, ie. valuing themselves.

  4. Bruno Coelho said at 12:58 pm on

    Fantastic mindset Esther! Loved it!

  5. Bill Lynch said at 2:01 pm on

    Values define the field on which we play the game of life. You never win by going off the field. I agree with you on all three points: values are to be lived (within), goals are to be achieved and Ms.Rand was often unnecessarily obscure.

  6. Bill Lynch said at 2:02 pm on

    And Esther reminds us that words have different meanings and nuances.

  7. Doug Wagner said at 2:19 pm on

    Values are often considered similar to ethics. But if you use a broader definition it includes your overall core beliefs about what is important.

    Values are not just manifested in how you behave. They are demonstrated in what you do, what you choose not to do, and what you accomplish and build; as the reflection of your values.

    When all of those pieces are in alignment, you are “achieving your values”.

    Now you have me hooked on Ayn Rand.

  8. Bob Burg said at 4:42 pm on

    My apologies for not responding individually. Thank you for all your comments and for sharing your wisdom with us. I read all of them and – as usual – you added terrific insights that I both hadn’t thought of…and those I needed to see again. Truly awesome. Thank you!

  9. Sergey said at 2:42 am on

    Ah! Love English language! So ambiguous! Allowing for so many paths! Which one is right?! Happiness Is a State of Consciousness! Achievement of a Value allows to achieve a value of failure, or a value of success, or a value of no value, or a value of following a value… all the way… half way… etc. I stir sugar in my tea clockwise 7 times, someone else stirs it 5 times counterclockwise… Is the sugar melted in the end? Does it matter if it’s melted? Do I like my tea more? Can I enjoy the other person’s tea as much? 🙂 Thank you!

  10. Bob Burg said at 8:25 am on

    Sergey: Thank you for your thoughts. And, in addition to your questions at the end, Ayn Rand readers would add, “Who is John Galt?” 😉

  11. Bill Lynch said at 9:02 am on

    Dilbert got into the discussion. See todays cartoon.

  12. Bob Burg said at 9:08 am on

    Bill: Just looked it up. Too funny!

  13. Al said at 12:10 am on

    Remember what Rand’s definition of ‘value’ is. “That which one works to gain and/or keep”. People have a tendency to restrict their definition of value to something abstract.

  14. Bob Burg said at 6:39 am on

    Al: Indeed, what a GREAT point you make (check the premise, right?)! And, I think she also saw that definition as more than just the concrete meaning.

  15. It seems the width of the gap between where we are and where we want to be has a significant impact on our level of happiness. It has also been said that happiness must be found in the journey, not the destination. So I hate to think that happiness is something that only exists in the future, reserved only for those who have “achieved something”. I prefer to think of happiness as something we experience in the present as we live in accordance to our values. Of course values is a very subjective term. What one person values in the present may not lead to happiness in the future. Ultimately, I believe happiness has less to do with values and more to do with living in a state of gratitude. Happiness also seems to rise and fall in proportion to the degree in which we feel in control of our lives and circumstances. Thanks for getting me thinking, Bob! Great post.

  16. Bob Burg said at 3:40 pm on

    Patrick: Thank you. Lots of great points. Much of what you said and the terms you used also depend upon how those terms would be defined. For example, where you said that “happiness has less to do with values and more to do with living in a state of gratitude.” If one places a very high value on living in a state of gratitude then it’s not an either/or.

    MUCH more importantly, though, it’s difficult to imagine someone living in a state of gratitude IF they are also living “out of alignment” with their values. Does that make sense?

    I’ll bet that if you were to re-read your excellent commentary, you’d find that you could easily come up with various interpretations. I love that you “think and question”, my friend. Oh, and value is indeed a subjective term, and very individual in nature.

  17. Thanks Bob! I love how your posts stretch my mind! Was it Socrates who said “before we begin, let us define our terms.” He nailed it! Now I’m wondering if the word *virtues* would have been better than *values* in the Ayn Rand quote? Or if it would have made a difference? Hmmm.

  18. Bob Burg said at 4:11 pm on

    Not sure if Socrates said that or if it was my Cousin Mitch. (just kidding – don’t have a Cousin Mitch) 😉 Ayn Rand said something very similar, and that was, “check your premises.” Very similar. Hmm, being that she was a huge fan of Aristotle, perhaps it was he who said it. Great question, and thank you for your kind comment. Regarding your question, I think “values” is what she meant because, again, values are very much an individual thing.

  19. I was debating whether it was Socrates or Aristotle. But it very well could have been Cousin Mitch. Haha! 🙂

  20. Bob Burg said at 6:07 pm on


  21. Sergey said at 1:17 pm on

    Hi All! 🙂

    Ann was correct in general terms – there is relationship between one’s values and one’s happiness.
    However, since one – is a tiny bit of many… on our planet… in our Universe… there is a direct relationship between the happiness of one, and happiness of many, as well as values of one and values of many…
    For example, if happiness of one is built on destruction of happiness of another – it may last a little while… The more people are involved – the less such happiness will last.

    For the happiness to last, the values of many have to be somewhat similar.

    There is also a simple way for one to be always happy, independently of others. Jeff Brown called it a “spiritual bypass”. On that path one is entirely removed from the rest through deconstruction of the ego. It is one of the most radical ways, since the state achieved transcends the meaning of everything, therefore the human path is abandoned.

    In essence, happiness of one is achieved through happiness of many, by following some Universal values. What are the Universal values? That’s a discussion of its own. 🙂

  22. Dave said at 10:14 pm on

    I think the word achievement is intentional. She clearly values achievement, and differentiates between achieving something and not doing so. I know she thinks that even identifying one’s values is an achievement. I believe there are several points where Dagny Taggart or someone is described as “not knowing why” she felt a certain way, and the eventual realization of what value made her feel that way is a part of the story.

    So if identifying one’s values is an effort, being able to live by them would be an achievement.

    I think the whole story of the Fountainhead demonstrates how difficult it is for Howard Roark to live by his values, and he’s a hero for being able to do so.

    I actually appreciate your pointing this quote out. One thing I’ve always found frustrating about Atlas Shrugged is I don’t see myself in the story at all, because I’m not a visionary best-in-the-business industrialist. But now that you point out the nuance in the quote, it seems that she’s acknowledging that it’s not so easy to go forward towards one’s own vision.

  23. Bob Burg said at 6:47 am on

    Sergey: Thank you for your comment. While, indeed, one’s individual values *affect* others (because one’s values lead to to actions and actions affect others, thus leading to a cause and effect), I would respectfully but very strongly disagree with your statements that there is necessarily a direct relationship between the happiness of one and the happiness of many. And, I would, again very much respectfully disagree that the values of many have to be similar in order for the happiness of an individual to last. As human beings, while we are a part of a society, we are individuals and responsible for our own sense of happiness. To the degree one consciously lives according to their own values, and “achieves those values” (the semantics of such which has been the point of the discussion) they are happy.

  24. Bob Burg said at 6:50 am on

    Dave: Thank you for your comments. Nothing I can say about it other than, “Very well-said, my friend!” A thinking-process that would have made Ayn Rand herself proud! 🙂

  25. […] example, I know a blogger who uses comments from his fans in some of his blog posts. (Check out Bob Burg’s post here.) This is a fantastic way to build good will and increase […]

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