Most of us know, intuitively, that self-esteem is related to happiness. If you have low self-esteem, if you tend to think poorly of yourself, it seems obvious that happiness will be difficult to attain and maintain; with high self-esteem, the opposite seems obvious. Indeed, though self-esteem is a difficult and complicated subject to study due to its internal, subjective nature, researchers seem to agree that high self-esteem is strongly related to happiness. (They are, of course, still quick to say that we have yet to establish causation, and that more research is needed.)
This intuition we hold leads to another, more subtle conclusion: persons with high self-esteem tend to be more successful, tend to achieve more. This conclusion makes sense—more success would seem to lead to more happiness—but here the research indicates that our intuitions probably stretch too far. There does not appear to be a strong relationship between self-esteem and success; our feelings about ourselves, it seems, do not have a tangible relationship to the real-world, with one notable exception: research does suggest that persons with high self-esteem are more likely than persons with low self-esteem to persevere after failure. That tendency to persist in the face of difficulty and failure may be the most powerful quality of high self-esteem, and perhaps the greatest reason why any person—and, in particular, those persons on the path to recovery from substance abuse—should work to develop high self-esteem.
What can you do to improve your self-esteem?
The University of Texas (UT) recommends a three-step approach to help improve self-esteem. First, don’t let the negative voice in your head, what the UT calls the “inner critic,” go unchallenged; when that voice speaks up, make sure that it is always answered with another voice, one that is positive or objective. Second, be kind to yourself; this takes practice, but the idea is that you should have as much compassion for yourself as you would have for a close friend. Third, enlist the aid of others; this is the most important step, because others can help you practice the first two steps as they provide their own compassion and another counter to your inner critic.
ReachOut.com, an Australian website and organization focusing on mental health, lists ten things you can do on a regular basis to help improve your self-esteem, including a few that tie into the University of Texas’s steps to improving self-esteem:
- Practice making your inner voice a positive voice.
- Try not to compare yourself to others.
- Exercise. Most sources agree that just half an hour a day is beneficial to physical and mental health.
- Always remind yourself that working toward your best is a fantastic goal, but perfection is not possible.
- Don’t be too critical of yourself.
- Spend your energy on those things you can change, and don’t waste any anxious energy on those things you can’t change.
- Enjoy yourself.
- Take pride in even the smallest of your achievements.
- Practice compassion.
- Seek and accept support from your social circles.
Other things you can do to start improving your self-esteem might involve reading a self-help book (or several); you may want to consider volunteering where you know help is needed and would be appreciated; or you can master a new skill, like cooking or gardening, to improve your estimation of your own value.
Higher self-esteem is associated with increased happiness and perseverance, so however you go about improving your self-esteem, the work will be well worth the effort.