The COVID-19 pandemic has shifted everyone’s needs and made us consider what we really ‘value.’ Now, more than ever, as we assess what is fundamentally important to us, we have an opportunity to explain values to our children and how ‘values literacy’ supports their well-being.

In elementary school, I remember sitting cross-legged during assembly. That day we had a guest speaker, an alumni, who was working as a local TV personality. She told us that ‘each one of us has gifts, something special that we are good at, but that it’s our responsibility to make sure that we actually use and develop these gifts..it’s not enough just to have talent.’ These words have stayed with me ever since, not because I practised them. But because I didn’t. 

As a child, I was deeply creative and loved learning for the sake of it, but somewhere along the line – studying to get top marks, completing two law degrees, working in the corporate world – these gifts got lost. Focused on the end goal, rather than enjoying the process, I’d forgotten what activities ‘filled’ me up, and brought me strength through joy. Buried in the daily grind of emails, long working hours and (as a young woman) constantly being marketed to, I had become so disconnected from myself, I wasn’t sure what I was striving for anymore, let alone whether the direction I was moving in was making me happy. 

Fast forward a few years and I saw a values-based coach. The process that led me there was long and serendipitous, but it was a true ‘aha’ moment to consciously uncover my key values and strengths. When I saw the results of the testing it was like a blurry image had suddenly sharpened into focus. Love, gratitude, creativity, love of learning, and bravery: ‘That’s me!’  I felt like I had ‘gone back to basics’ and finally understood what made me tick. But it was also sobering, as I had to face the reality of the gap between the life I was living and living a life with personal meaning. The two were not the same. 

 And this is why values – knowing our personal values – is so important. They aren’t esoteric but provide a framework for daily life. A lens through which we can evaluate opportunities and make decisions so that we can focus our time, energy, and resources on what actually matters to us (not what we are told to value – whether it be from family, friends or society at large). 

When I first moved from Australia to the UK, I was faced with a difficult period of adjustment as I was struggling to find my feet in a new environment, away from my family and friends. Over this period cooking became my outlet and I started making a lot of my grandmother’s traditional Greek recipes as a way of reconnecting to my family, feelings of comfort and my heritage. And I realised that cooking was an activity I kept returning to (not just because we need to eat everyday!) but because it incorporates so many of my strengths. 

It was a way of harnessing my creativity, as I was being resourceful with ingredients, developing new recipes and experimenting with ‘plating up.’ It was an opportunity to experience gratitude – for food and nature, and also to express love, by sharing meals with others. My love of learning was rekindled as I was developing a sense of mastery and improvement. And I was calling on bravery, to give me the strength to try new techniques, even if they didn’t work out. By approaching a daily activity, like cooking, through my values, and paying attention to my habitual reactions and behaviours in the kitchen, there were many ‘teachable moments’ that I could apply to other areas of life. In this way, cooking became my meditation. 

As cooking is a deeply immersive experience, recruiting all your senses during the process, you can cultivate an awareness of the present moment, resulting in similar benefits to a formal mindfulness practice. Several studies show creative activities, like baking can support stress management, while another study found that “maker” activities, like cooking, are particularly beneficial for young adults. The benefits of cooking with children are also well documented, as it has been found to be an excellent therapy for children managing anxiety and helps children learn

Three decades of research have also uncovered the benefits of strength-based parenting, including, improved well-being and better parent-child connection. The field of research on the intersection between mindfulness and values also continues to develop, with new and exciting ways to merge these practices. Dr. Ryan Niemiec, author, Mindfulness and character strengths: A practical guide to flourishing, explains ‘mindfulness and character strengths deepen one another…to practice using strengths with mindfulness is to be intentional and conscious about noting and deploying your best qualities.’ In this way, mindfulness is integral to understanding our values and changing our behaviour, because the first step is awareness. 

In the midst of the current pandemic, there hasn’t been a more pressing time to support children and build their ‘values literacy.’ To mark World Values Day 2020, I have teamed up with values-based coach, Melanie Weeks and nutritionist, Ati Farmani to host two events on introducing values to children during the pandemic. Part 1 is a conversation with Melanie on identifying your child’s values, while Part 2 is a cooking demonstration with Ati, where we make a fanouropita – a traditional Greek cake – and explain how parents can turn baking into an opportunity to explore values with their children. 

We hope that by blending our approach to mindful cooking with values inquiry, participants will have a new perspective on how to help uncover their children’s values and provide them with the tools they need to make sense of their world and recognise their own strength. 

Because it’s not enough to have values, we need to use them. 

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Adamantia Velonis is an accredited mindfulness teacher. She is the founder of online mindful cooking journal Marmalade + Kindness. Her mission is to encourage people to find moments of mindfulness and creativity through cooking.