Feeling down on yourself? Make a self-esteem playlist! It might sound silly, but music can have powerful effects on mood. Here are some ideas...

1. Authentic Self-Esteem: Don't Be Shy, by Cat Stevens

Authentic self-esteem is critical to mental health and well-being, but there are a lot of things that can get in the way. It's not always easy to know who you really are and what you really want, and even when you do, it can be hard to express your true self when it conflicts with family or societal expectations, or when you're afraid of failing. So next time your feeling stifled, put on some Cat Stevens and don't be shy about dancing around your living room. (Other options: Cat Stevens' If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out, Phil Collins' True Colorsand Katy Perry's Firework).

2. Intrinsic Self-Esteem: The Greatest Love of All, by Whitney Houston  

Like authentic self-esteem, intrinsic self-esteem is derived from within, independent of external outcomes like success and failure or acceptance and rejection. Research suggests that intrinsic self-esteem is more stable and results in lower defensiveness compared to more extrinsic forms of self-esteem. Much of our sense of self is based on others' perceptions, making it hard to generate self-esteem from within. Although it may seem paradoxical, one way to build intrinsic self-esteem is to draw on experiences of unconditional love–that is, the feeling of being accepted for who you are, not what you do. (Also see Josh Groban's You Are Loved–it will really make you feel loved).

3. Collective Self-Esteem: We Are The Champions, by Queen

As we approach Olympics season, national pride is on people's minds. One important (though sometimes problematic) source of self-esteem is derived from the groups that we belong to or identify with, whether that group is a sports team, a cultural group, or a country. Collective self-esteem gives us a boost when our group does well, but when our group does poorly or we feel that its status is threatened, we might resort to outgroup derogation, discrimination, and violence. So enjoy your ingroup pride, but don't forget our common humanity. (Other options for inspiring national and more local pride: Beyonce's cover of Lee Greenwood's Proud To Be An American, Whitney Houston's rendition of the National Anthem, and Jay-Z and Alicia Keys' Empire State of Mind–and its many regional spin-offs).

4. Body Esteem: Sexy and I Know it, by LMFAO

Research suggests that up to 80% of American women are dissatisfied with their appearance, and many men are also insecure about their looks. With the media's constant onslaught of unattainable beauty ideals, it's understandable that so many people feel that they can't measure up. There's nothing like "Sexy and I Know It" to remind you that feeling sexy is all about your attitude, not objective reality. (If you want a more serious body esteem song, there's also Christina Aguilera's Beautiful and TLC's Unpretty).

5. Self-Acceptance: Born This Way, by Lady Gaga

Lady Gaga is the poster child for self-acceptance. Her single Born This Way is an empowering anthem for anyone who feels shame in being who they are, whether related to their sexual orientation, ethnicity, disability, social class, or anything else that makes them different. Demonstrating that she practices what she preaches, Lady Gaga recently created a non-profit organization called the Born This Way Foundation devoted to youth empowerment, self-esteem-building, and anti-bullying. (The list of self-acceptance pop songs is endless: Also see Pink's Perfect and Raise Your GlassBruno Mars' Just The Way You Areand Robyn's Dream On).

6. Self-Confidence: U Can't Touch This, by MC Hammer

There are a lot of songs that could fit this category, but U Can't Touch This is a classic (and it brings back fond memories of Hammer pants being all the rage when I was in 5th grade). Although inflated self-confidence might seem like it could backfire, research suggests that overconfident people–those who overestimate their abilities relative to objective markers–are actually perceived as more competent by peers and go on to gain higher status in groups, regardless of how competent they actually are. So there's nothing wrong with erring on the side of building yourself up a little, as long as you don't resort to belittling others or blatant deception. Unfortunately for MC Hammer, overconfidence may have contributed to financial problems–he filed for bankruptcy in 1996, soon after making it big–but he got back on his feet again. 

7. Humble Self-Esteem: Wind Beneath My Wings, by Bette Midler

This song always gives me chills. In the age of self-esteem, it can be easy to forget that our personal accomplishments are inexorably linked to the people who have supported us and the good fortune we have stumbled upon. Humble self-esteem is not the same as low self-esteem. It involves seeing oneself as worthy but not more worthy than others, and not without flaws. Researchers have argued that healthy forms of humility involve components like low self-focus, openness to new ideas, having a sense of perspective on one's own accomplishments, and appreciation for others' contributions. Recent research suggests that humble people have better relationships and may even be physically healthier. So when you're pumping yourself up, don't forget to keep your ego in check. 

For more psychology-related songs, see this post on Psych Your Mind.


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The Self-Compassion Playlist is a reply by Juliana Breines Ph.D.

About the Author

Juliana Breines

Juliana Breines, Ph.D., is a postdoctoral fellow at Brandeis University.

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