Can Happiness Lead to Confidence?

Self-esteem may emerge from a conscious commitment to greater happiness.

Posted Nov 11, 2018

Self-esteem—or a lack of self-esteem—can change your world. It impacts your daily life and those you come into contact with in and out of the workplace. Yet everyone can allow that little voice to drive them on the wrong path.

Every person has setbacks of varying degrees and frequencies, and just how negatively you’re affected is what plays a big role in “self-image.”

Dreamstime
Source: Dreamstime

Could the road to strong self-esteem be nudged by a conscious effort to shift to thoughts that bring greater happiness? There are numerous studies, some conflicting, on the subject.

Common sense suggests that when you’re happy, it’s more difficult to lack self-confidence and vice versa. While neither are solely the cause or effect of the other, they are certainly linked.

In the workplace, many assume that person X is confident because they just “know their stuff.” It likely goes deeper. They likely are generally content, because being confident (but not overconfident or brassy—there’s a big difference!) is simply not sustainable if you’re unhappy.

The Happiness Elixir

Just how do you acquire the natural happiness elixir? That's a question that will perplex the human race for eternity. Howard Mumford Jones, a Harvard University professor and renowned journalist, once said, “Happiness…belongs to that category of words, the meaning of which everybody knows, but the definition of which nobody can give.”

No wonder getting to what brings you joy can be so elusive. Happiness is complex. Add self-esteem struggles to the mix, and it’s even more overwhelming. But it’s often those experiences—a job termination, divorce, financial hardship, personal loss, and other setbacks—that ultimately pull you in a better direction, if you allow them to.

Historical cues? With the New Year not too far off, it might be a good time to reflect on positive times in your life and what you were doing at those times. What moments do you reflect on the most as bringing you peace and a sense of accomplishment? When do you remember getting excited about events, projects, achievements, and social interactions? When did you feel you made a difference in people’s lives?

Take a digital break. Most would agree that our lives have changed significantly for the better in the last decade because of our cell phones. However, the digital world has also contributed to isolation from real personal interaction across generations. With the addictive nature of many social media platforms and new apps on our phones, it takes a concerted effort to find more meaningful, real-life social circles. It's worth exploring such activities as yoga, hiking, musical events, tennis or art classes, for example, to create solid social engagement that builds deep-rooted self-esteem.

What do you love? “Follow your passion” has become a cliché, but doing what you love is also easy to dismiss in the routine of life. What you “were trained to do,” “advised to do,” or “always have done,” may not bring happiness. Compare that to achieving something you’ve always dreamed of, or being involved with something truly rewarding, even for a few hours a week. It may not be a career change, but pursuit of a hobby or charity, for instance.

Your passions can lead you to happiness, whether in your professional or personal life. It’s about finding out how and where they work for you, and on what scale.

Commit it to writing. One helpful approach is to take some quiet time to yourself to figure things out, on paper. Write, rather than type. Many swear by a good old notepad, because it allows more creativity and less linear thinking. If you don’t know where to start, ask yourself questions in writing. That will get you in the proper mode; out of your head and into objectivity.

A team effort? Research shows that it’s helpful to incorporate others into your happiness strategy, too. One study found that those who belong to multiple groups they feel are important, such as a charitable cause, company project, or sports team, see greater increases in self-esteem than having friends individually. Shared connections and a sense of community give greater meaning to life.

Self-Esteem Side-Trackers

It’s easy to get derailed on the path toward higher self-esteem by some common pitfalls. Avoiding these pitfalls can help you achieve greater happiness.

  • Making assumptions. People often assume the worst. A recent study found that following interactions, people systematically underestimate how much their conversation partners like them and enjoy their company, an illusion researchers call the “liking gap.”
  • Failing to know what drives you. This circles back to what makes you happy. It’s hard to build your self-esteem if you don’t have a clear sense of who you are and what you value.
  • Defaulting to “no.” People may automatically reject ideas (e.g., “Oh, I can’t wear that” or “I can’t ask for a raise.”). Those with high self-esteem are open to change and are willing to take on some risk. "No" is certainly is a game-changer in the workplace.
  • Being stuck. How easy is it to get into a holding pattern with your life? Very. Most people at some point in their lives become paralyzed with fear about something and decide it’s easier not to do anything differently. They end up staying in a dead-end job or a relationship that causes distress.
  • Setting unrealistic goals. Overachievers are particularly prone to this pitfall. They set extremely high expectations and then operate at full steam toward that big, unachievable goal. They miss out on the satisfaction of achieving smaller goals along the way, which can be much more rewarding.
  • Always looking ahead. Life is one large to-do list and the focus is always on what’s next. The problem here is that there’s no appreciation for what has been accomplished, meaning a missed opportunity for building confidence. Recent research shows self-esteem is highest at 60 years old and decreases slightly for the following couple decades. Experts suggest this is due to fewer financial and caregiving burdens, but perhaps it's something deeper. Said Frank Lloyd Wright: “The longer I live the more beautiful life becomes."
  • Having regrets. At the same time, people need to be careful not to dwell on the negative side of the past. Learning from one’s mistakes is one thing, but “staring at the past” is another, and can ruin the days ahead that are never guaranteed. 
  • Significantly sacrificing. Self-esteem can also get sidetracked when people put the needs of others before their own. They might have trouble setting boundaries; take on too much work; do all the “heavy lifting” with friendships without reciprocity or respect; or assume all the household duties. This may continue until you question how your happiness eroded and how to get it back.

The key to having high self-esteem lies in taking the time you deserve to reacquaint yourself with a few things. Namely, You. What is holding you back from making self-confidence and happiness a priority today?