How often do we hear the platitude, ‘Love yourself’? The thing is,, we can’t simply flick a switch and begin loving ourselves. We can’t simply say to ourselves,‘Hey, from now on I will love myself,’ and do it. If only it were that easy!
If someone thinks it is easy, it’s because they already do love themselves, and assume it is because they have made the choice to do so.
But do we need to love ourselves? Is loving ourselves necessary for happiness, as countless life-coaches suggest?
A person with a low self-esteem will be socially disadvantaged, but can still be happy. Think of it this way: a person losing their leg in an accident will be disadvantaged, but even the happiness experts claim that most amputees will, after time, return to the same level of happiness they had before. In other words, an amputee’s long-term day-to-day happiness will not affected by their disability. (You would have met happy disabled people.) Of course, if the amputee could have their limb back, they would. They would be euphoric for a while, but again, they would return to the same level of happiness they had before.
In the same way, to have a low self-esteem is to have an emotional disability. The person will be disadvantaged, but when have come to terms with that disability they also will return to their normal level of happiness.
Core happiness depends on satisfying long-term innate needs, not on how much we like ourselves.
Q. ‘Do you have a high self-esteem, Mark?’
I have a low self-esteem, yet I’m happy. That’s how I figured out we don’t need a high self-esteem to be happy. It’s one of the reasons why I began writing this book!
Would I be even happier if my self-esteem were higher? I don’t know. And, unless I develop a high self-esteem, I won’t know! But I doubt it.
Q. ‘The happy people I know seem to have a high self-esteem.’
There are happy people with low self-esteem, but you wouldn’t know it because they’re happy. Conversely, there are unhappy people with high self-esteem, but you wouldn’t know it either, because they are displaying unhappiness.
Q. ‘We would be better off with a high self-esteem, wouldn’t we?’
Yes, you will find it easier to find partners, find jobs, get promotions . . . but you won’t be happier. Core happiness isn’t about how well your life is going, it’s about how you feel about the life you have.
An amputee would be better off with their limb restored, but as I have suggested, it doesn’t mean their core happiness would be greater.
I find it reassuring to know that our core happiness is not contingent upon arbitrary matters such as whether or not we have a disability like a missing leg or low self-esteem. I like the fact our happiness depends on how we respond to the world, and feeling that we can handle what comes our way.
Q. ‘People with low self-esteem are more likely to be depressed.’
It might be the other way around: depressed people are more likely to develop a low self-esteem, due the suffering they experience and the stigma they endure.
For you to persuade me of your claim I would need accurate measurements of a person’s self-esteem before and after the person developed depression; a convincing way to measure a person’s self-esteem; and a large sample of people measured.
Here are some other happiness myths:
– The power of positive thinking. We are often told that we need to look on the bright side if we want to be happy. We need to see the glass half full. But is that helpful advice?
– Myth: we need money to be happy. Surely we need money to be happy, don’t we? Without it we would be in dire straits. So, why is it a myth?
– Myth: to be happy we need to be kind. Countless times we are told that becoming a kind person will make us happier. Why isn’t that true?
– Myth: We are happier with only a few possessions. Will having fewer possessions make us feel happier? How does that work?
– Myth: We need to suffer before we can be happy. Helen Keller once said: ‘The hilltops would not be half so wonderful if there were no dark valleys to traverse.’ Is she right?
– Myth: We need to reach our full potential. The life coaches offer to help us become better people, yet in another breath tell us to accept ourselves for who we are. What’s going on?
– Myth: We need to be loved to be happy This isn’t true either! At least, not after our teens.
– Myth: We need close relationships to be happy. It’s the biggest, most common myth about happiness of them all. Nearly everyone says it. Yet, it’s not true.
– Myth: We need good health to be happy. That seems obvious, doesn’t it? After all, we won’t be happy suffering the black plague. But does good health bring core happiness?
– Myth: We can choose to be happy. This is one of the most pernicious myths going around. Of course we can’t choose to be happy!
– Myth: We need to fake it until we make it. Supposedly, if we act happy, we will become happy. But it’s just not true.
– Myth: Happiness comes from having low expectations. Don’t expect much and you won’t be disappointed, goes the saying. But does that equal happiness? Of course not.
– Myth: We need to foster compassion to be happy. The Buddhists are particularly keen on the idea of fostering compassion. So, should we foster it?
– Myth: We can earn our self-worth. How many of us live our lives trying to earn our self-worth? Might you be trying to earn your self worth?