Is Self-esteem The Holy Grail of Happiness?

In this blog I am going to explore is ‘Self Esteem The Holy Grail of Happiness’, along with the concept of what self-esteem is and the reality of how to get to a high self-esteem. My first thoughts on the reality of having high self-esteem is when I heard the lyrics of a track called ‘Youth’ by a band called Daughter. The lyrics say ‘We are the wild youth, chasing visions of our futures, one day we’ll reveal the truth, that one will die before he gets there.’

Every time I hear this song I am still mortally wounded by these lyrics despite the fact I have heard it a thousand times. It hits home right in the same place as Irvin Yalom’s ‘Human beings must face up to their ultimate meaninglessness of their existence, that there exists no grand design in the universe, no guidelines for living other than that, that the individual creates.’

It strikes me right in the section of my thinking where I store my failures, it makes me think about what dreams I will fail to fulfil by the time I reach the end of my life, So for me, there is an advantage of thinking about this at the stage of life I am at now. I am not at the end of my life (hopefully) so thinking about these things offers me room to evaluate how I might satisfy my dreams.

One dream I can safely say has passed, is my desire to emigrate to Australia. It was my dream ever since I was a boy, let me play you the scene I dreamed of;

It was warm,

I was diving into a swimming pool,

The coast line was in the distance,

There was luscious greenery all around,

The sun bather nearby backed up how peaceful the scene was,

I felt content and fuzzy and warm inside,

It felt like paradise………………. Then my mum woke me up for school!!

This dream carried on through adolescence as the want for a warmer climate prevailed along with a growth in desire to see more of the world. Then there was the scene of my Uncle Dave a man who did emigrate to Australia with my Aunty and cousins, passing me a bag of maps and a book about how to obtain Australian citizenship. For me this was like one man passing on his bag of dreams to aid another man’s dreams. Unfortunately this was to be the last such gesture from a man I just loved sharing company with.

My holdback in my earlier adult years was I didn’t have adequate qualifications and when I did, it seemed that the dream had passed. My family seemed well rooted in their lives and our extended family had grown even more. This for me has took some processing, some acceptance, my self-esteem felt smashed I took a long time exploring this in my own counselling before I could make peace with it.

The definition of self-esteem in the oxford dictionary is ‘Confidence in one’s own worth or abilities; self-respect.’

The thought that high self-esteem was a place we should all strive to be was a concept designed to help America out of recession, the mood was low, and productivity was low so there was a need to create a social vaccine to get the economy going again.

According to Will Storr (2017) The idea that we needed to raise self-esteem in people in order to create a thriving economy came about by a research project done by Carl Rogers. He was researching what the effect of high self-esteem had on people. An American Politian got hold of this idea also and whilst Rogers abandoned the quest as it became unfounded, the American Politian continued with the research and he found that if you measure self-esteem in young people that had good exam results, they all had high self-esteem.

The first idea was that good self-esteem equals good exam results, not good exam results equals’ high self-esteem. The American Politian was able to force through the idea that high self-esteem is the Holy Grail to happiness and success rather than holding that self-esteem is merely significant. High self-esteem is great but ‘it’ alone is not a saving grace for success.

How we work with this concept growing up is when we receive messages of praise for the things we have achieved. ‘Well done that’s a fantastic picture.’ ‘Look at your pretty dress.’ Don’t you look smart and handsome in your new clothes.’ We tell our children ‘You can achieve the world if you put your mind to it, anything is achievable.’

From a young age our value is determined by the praise we get either from our family members or school teachers. This has translated into I must have a good career and dress well in order to feel good about myself.

Some parents myself included have chosen names outside the normal prescribed names of our culture in order for the child to stand out.

There are things us as individuals can’t achieve or in the very least find it extremely hard to achieve. I for example will never become a Calvin Klein underwear model, but I can be assured if I tried to become one I would get pretty miserable in my failure of trying to get there.

I hold that it is more beneficial and less demanding to assert that there are things we are good at and things we are not. I can’t achieve everything and my skillset is variant from other peoples. If I try my best at something, I know that is the best I can offer it, if that is not enough at least I tried.

I am wondering if it is at all healthy to look at self-esteem as a measure of our well-being particularly if what we believe we have to achieve in order to raise our self-esteem is either to hard to achieve or won’t improve our self-esteem at all. As a matter of fact the hunt for the things that raise our self-esteem could create huge disappointment and send our self-esteem the other way when we realise that it is either unobtainable or did not improve your well being at all!

Will Storr (2017) goes on to suggest that we are products of our environment and of a political system where it is of benefit to society if we are led to believe we can achieve absolutely anything it becomes the fault of those that find themselves in poverty if they end up there. We become less empathic if we believe we are all capable of reaching the stars to those that don’t. We then use the same measure of punishment on ourselves when we don’t reach the stars.

What do I mean by reach for the stars I guess it’s the conditions we put on ourselves, to own our own homes, to have nice cars, to dress well, eat well, be a good parent, be a good friend, have the perfect body image, have the perfect social media image, have a noble career, be successful to name just a few of the conditions we may place upon ourselves.

We look outwards at the success stories we see on a day to day basis if it’s not through our mobile phones and social media, it is through advertisements, it’s via the celebrity obsessed tabloid papers and magazines. We see these success filled examples and strive to be that, I think this is partly what the point Carl Jung (1968) was trying to make in Man and His Symbols. We are products of the world we see around us and we sift through the information that we process and make a choice out of what these things we want to become.

In a world where everyone is trying to trick the world from seeing the real versions of themselves due to hiding behind snap chat filters, high end German motors and Ralph Lauren clothing the version of the world we see around us is false. Therefore the standards are unobtainable and I believe this is part of the reason mental health statistics are rapidly rising, suicide and self-harm statistics are through the roof. How do I believe we make these statistics go the other way?

I believe we need to recognise that we can’t be everything to everything, there are some goals we just will not reach. So stop trying to fit square pegs in round holes and look at what things we are good at and let this be the trade-off for what we are not.

Disengage with social media, not completely if you don’t want to but limit the time you spend plugged in.

When accessing social media or looking at newspapers or listening to how perfect some one’s life is have your bullshit filter fully engaged! No we don’t have to call anyone out on it, but just being aware of the artificial glaze that is applied to most things we see today especially via the media and social media.

I hold that self-exploration within a counselling setting, identifying who you are aside from your cultural and societal influences can be a step in the right direction towards clarity and life fulfilment. It can be a space for you to explore what are realistic life challenges and sift through what expectations are put upon us.

Finally and most importantly pay attention to the relationships you hold around you, your family members, your friendships, your work colleagues. Give these relationships your full attention because believe me when I say the key to mental health and well-being is holding good relationships with the people around you.

I hope you have enjoyed reading this blog, you will find many more at as well as contact information for counselling if this is something you would like to pursue.

Take care, Nick



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