Life and Happiness Skills

Q: I have been thinking about the topic of self-esteem and self-love as the foundation of happiness. It seems like one cannot exist without the other, and are really one and the same. Is one a byproduct of the other or do they coexist on equal footing, intertwined?

A: Self-esteem means a pervasive sense that (1) you deserve to be happy, and (2) you have the tools (mainly your mind) for achieving happiness in life.

Without self-esteem, happiness will not be possible. Your motivation will be weak (because you don’t feel deserving of happiness) and your confidence will be weak (because you don’t believe you have the tools for becoming happy).

Nobody can make you happy. You can only achieve this yourself. Others can help you in various ways, but nobody but yourself can literally create and sustain your own happiness. You can always say, ‘This person helped me in my quest to be happy.’ But you can never say, ‘This person made me happy.’ If you think this, you’re making a very dangerous mistake.

A lot of people mistakenly think, ‘I’ve got to get self-esteem. If I get self-esteem, then I will be happy.’  Not quite. Self-esteem and happiness are not mutually exclusive. Self-love, self-esteem, love of life and continuous progress in what one wants all make up the formula for happiness. There’s no “trick” or technique to escape this.

Happiness implies, first and foremost, a love of life. ‘I’m glad to be here.’ This is where self-love comes in. Self-love refers specifically to a love of life. You love yourself as an extension of the fact that you love life.

Life includes two basic things: Existence, and consciousness. You cannot love existence while denying your consciousness (i.e. your mind, your very self); at the same time, you cannot love your consciousness without enjoying the fact you live in existence.

I have found that there are basically two ways to be unhappy. One is to be at war, so to speak, with existence; and other is to be at war with one’s own consciousness or self.

People who are at war with existence resist or resent having to take action to make their lives better. They resist going to school, getting training, studying, learning new skills, or whatever might be required to make more money and/or attain fulfillment. They resist or resent going out into the world and finding ways to meet new people, take risks, develop friendships and do the long-term ‘legwork’ required to find love, friendship, or any kind of serious association.

As a result, they become depressed or anxious. They become depressed because they feel it’s all futile and what’s the point? Or they become anxious because they fear or dread never finding what they want. The root of this issue is often the resistance to confronting existence in a realistic, long-range and sustained way.

People who are at war with their own consciousness are self-critical and condemning. They disown their own emotions, and detach from them, rather than (1) allowing themselves to experience them fully, and (2) taking the time to reflect on emotions which perhaps don’t make sense or lead them in the right direction. Such repression or self-condemnation take their toll, and inevitably lead to problems like depression or anxiety, as well.

Building self-esteem consists of facing all of this head on. For one thing, there’s no reason to think of oneself as unworthy of happiness. ‘As long as I take the necessary steps, over time, to attain what I want, I deserve every bit of happiness I can find.’ If you know and really believe, ahead of time, that you deserve happiness once you attain it—you’re strengthened in your motivation to go after it and find it.

It’s useful to keep in mind that old adage about life being not only the destination, but also the journey. Some people say life is ALL about journey and goals/destinations do not matter. I don’t agree. But a life well-lived is spent very much in the pursuit of goals and desires, and it’s necessary to remember this to sustain one’s motivation and not give up. When you give up, you remove the possibility of all goal-attainment. So long as you continue to pursue what’s important to you in an intelligent way, even elusive goals remain possible. And the journey remains exciting and worthwhile.

The short answer to your question is yes, self-love and self-esteem are intertwined and coexist. It all starts with love of life, and the resulting refusal to be at war with either existence/reality or your own consciousness. If you manage to pull this off, you’ll very likely lead a happy and meaningful life.


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