Developing  Enlightened Values using RSVP

Everything has been figured out except how to live (Jean-Paul Sartre)

RSVP (refined subjective value procedure) is a 5 stage procedure to help you develop enlightened values. It synthesises many ideas about well-being, values and meaning from philosophy with questions philosophically-minded therapists have found helpful to their clients.


RSVP provides a framework for thinking critically and creatively about what makes life go well. It will help you produce a list of values which can be defended as those that would make your life go well if they were fulfilled.


RSVP has the following five stages :-


1) Thinking up 'candidate' values

2) Grouping values together

3) Assessing whether each 'candidate' value should be accepted

4) Clarifying the relative importance of each value

5) Thinking up virtues and goals associated with each value



1) Think up candidate values

The aim of this part of the exercise is similar to brainstorming - it's trying to avoid missing out things that appear valuable to you.  Note that it's choosing things that appear valuable. Later (stage 3) we will assess whether they really are valuable.


i) Your present values

Start by writing down a list of your ultimate values off the top of your head. For example, you might write down 'pleasure, accomplishment, autonomy, helping others, money'. Start by writing down as many good things as you can, then restrict yourself to the top 5. Don't spend too long on this. There will be plenty of opportunity to add more values later. Part of the benefit of listing your values now is to measure the progress you make.


(Example) My top 5  values are:

1. Pleasure



4.Helping Others



My top 5 values are:-







ii) Develop more enlightened values by examining your  past.


1) The Life Review Exercise

Think about periods of your life, when things have been going particularly well or badly. Fill in the first two columns in the life review table accordingly. Next come up with a ‘well-being’ rating for that period – 100 means great, 0 very bad.  In the next two columns write down the good things and bad things that were happening at this time. Finally, in the last column, extrapolate the values which seem to have been most important in affecting how well or badly your life has been going.


When thinking of good things and bad things, bear in mind that these can include the three following sources of value:

·        Achievements  (e.g. getting your first job)

·        Experiences (e.g. having a nice vacation)

·        Character & virtues (e.g. becoming more proactive)


A useful map to check that you have included all areas of life is as follows:-

·        Personal (e.g. emotional life,  intimate relationships, close friends)

·        Social      (e.g. jobs and colleagues, status)

·        Physical   (e.g. health, geographical location)

·        Ideal     (e.g. values, religion, virtues, goals)




Example of Life Review Table




Good things

Bad things





Lots of friends




Last year at school












My Life review table




Good things

Bad things








































2)For any of the negative events that you listed, is it possible to see any meaning in them, or some good that came out of them?  Would have it been possible to adopt an attitude that would have made them less bad? If so, add this attitude to your list of values.




3)What advice would you give yourself about how to live, if you could revisit the 'you' of  5, 10 and 20 years ago (don’t feel restricted by these dates)?  What values do you think are implied by this advice?


4)The 'It's a Wonderful Life' Thought Experiment

Imagine that you had never lived. What difference would it have made? Do not dismiss this question with "not much, alas", but try to think of how, in your personal, social and professional life, you have


5)Think of  one of the best days of your life so far? Describe it.

What made it so good?


Use these insights to

i) Reassess your past life (as the James Stewart character did in the film)

ii) Think about what values you might want to satisfy in the future




iii) Develop more enlightened values by thinking about your future


a) Plan a perfect day for next year – where would you be, who would you be with, what would you be doing  ?


b) If you had six months left to live, how would you spend  it?


c) If you had to give  one good reason why you should be allowed to continue to live, what reason would you give?


d) Imagine your own funeral. What would you like to be able to say about your life?  If it is helpful, think in terms of experiences, achievements and attitudes.


For each answer, ask yourself what they tell you about your ultimate values



iv) Develop more enlightened values by looking at states of mind and states of the world


1) The Experience Machine

An inventor offers to plug you in to a machine which will give you the authentic experience of anything you like.

a) Design a day for yourself plugged in to  the Experience Machine. What experiential values does this suggest?



b) You are offered the choice to stay plugged in to the machine for the rest of your life. Would you accept? If not, why not? What (non-experiential) values does this suggest?



2) Three wishes

You are given three wishes which can change the world in any way you like. What would your three wishes be? What values does this suggest?






v) Use emotions as your 'sixth sense' which detects value

Start by writing down a list of people (dead or alive, real or fictional, famous or obscure) you admire, respect, or envy and people you despise, lack respect for or pity. For both sets of people, ask what reasons you have for  your attitude. Extract from this a list of values. For example, you might have written down that you admired Nelson Mandela, because he has helped other people and has complete integrity. Next think of things that you are passionate about  and those that make you angry, and ask yourself what it is about them that elicits this emotion and so what the corresponding value is.



Emotion (e.g. admiration, respect, envy, despising, lack of respect, pity)


Nelson Mandela


Helping others, integrity







Emotion (e.g. admiration, respect, envy, despising, lack of respect, pity)







2) Try to group values together, and weed out things that are valued

purely as means to other values.

You may now have quite a long list of 'candidate values'. There are two ways to make this list more manageable.

i) Group values together where you can. For example, if three values are 'spending time with friends', 'being liked by friends' and 'comradeship' then you can group these three values together under  'friendship'.



ii) Check that each value is not valued purely as a means to something else. You can do this by asking yourself about the reasons why you want it. Next ask whether you would still want to satisfy your value if you already had what it gives you. If the answer is 'No' then it is valued only as a means so should be eliminated and replaced by the more ultimate value.

For example, suppose you have written down 'money' as one of your values.

a) What reason do I  have for wanting money? Answer - more status, bigger house and more security.

b) If I had more status, a bigger house, more security, would I still want money? If you answer 'no' then you should replace 'money' as a value with the other items.





3) Assess whether each 'candidate' value should be accepted

The questions you have answered have been designed to come up with enlightened values, so there is a good chance that these 'candidate' values should be accepted. However we need to verify that this is the case.


For example, suppose your more enlightened list of values is:


·        Positive emotions

·        Absence of negative emotions 

·        Accomplishment

·        Friendships and intimate relationships

·        Intellectual stimulation

·        Helping others


1) Imagine that all of these values are being satisfied in your life. What would your life be like? Remember to think in terms of states of the world and states of mind and each of the areas and sources of value described above. Would anything be missing? Would any of the values interfere with each other? Have you any evidence for these views (for example from the life review)


2) Ask yourself why you think each of these things is a good thing. Again, do this in terms of states of mind and states of the world. For example, you might say that intellectual stimulation is a good thing both because it is a preferred state of mind and because it can lead to worthwhile  states of the world. Next ask yourself if you are making any presuppositions - for example that worthwhile things can only be produced by the intellect - and whether these presuppositions can be justified.


Use your answers to identify any missing values, and also to justify whether each value should stay on your list. Do this by giving reasons for and against the value , and asking whether the reasons are true, relevant and strong.

It is important to do this in the spirit of genuine enquiry, trying to find arguments against things even if they seem obviously good. Imagine that you are trying to convince a Martian - assume nothing. Be prepared to make your values even more enlightened by refining them slightly. For example, a reason against valuing the positive emotions is that positive emotions are not always appropriate e.g. when a loved one has suffered a misfortune. So you might change "have positive emotions" to "have appropriate positive emotions". If at any stage you become unclear about what a value really means, try to become clear by attempting a definition, and if still unclear attempt conceptual analysis. Cross off any values that you are not able to defend.


4) Try to clarify the relative importance and structure of values.

Ask the following questions

a) Do some values appear more important than others? Answer this by comparing values, two at a time asking "Would I choose a life adopting ultimate value A or B".

b) Do your values depend on each other in any way (do some values tend to be in conflict or are they mutually reinforcing?)

c) Do any values exhibit diminishing returns (e.g. you might need a certain number of close friends, but beyond that you don't need any more).

d) Which of the values are purely personal (i.e. apply just to you) and which are more universal in that they apply to most people. Is it human nature, the human  condition or your own personal nature that makes this a value? For example, you might argue that   friendship is a fairly universal value because humans are social creatures, but intellectual curiosity is more personal because it's  just your nature to be intellectually curious.


5) Write down associated virtues and goals

You now have a set of enlightened values - all you need to do now is make sure that your life satisfies them! To help you do this, you might like to think of virtues which will help you be the sort of person who fulfils the values, and goals which will help you focus on satisfying the values and monitor whether you are doing so. A virtue is a habit which generally leads to the fulfilment of particular values (e.g. loyalty helps friendships). Kekes (1992)  thinks that there are also a number of general virtues we need if we are to lead worthwhile lives, including self-knowledge, self-control, self-direction, and wisdom. He says "We need self-knowledge to develop a realistic view of ourselves ... We need wisdom to understand our limitations and possibilities and to conduct ourselves accordingly. We need self-control to change ourselves from what we are to what our ideals prescribe we ought to be."



Associated value (if any)






A goal is a specific, concrete aim which brings about the fulfilment of a goal (e.g. a goal associated with friendship might be to see  one's close friends at least once a month). Fill in the table below. Write a list of goals for the next year, five years and lifetime. For each goal, ask yourself your underlying reason for wanting to achieve this goal. For example, you might write down "I want to be retired by the time I'm 50". The associated values might include   not having to work, being able to more time with my family and having less worries. To help you do this, you might want to look again at your original values (from step 1) and the sources of values and areas of value listed  in 2a).





This year






Next five years










 ©Tim LeBon 2006

Buy Wise Therapy now  for the complete theory behind RSVP and much more!

Back to Tim LeBon’s Philosophy, Counselling and Personal Development pages