The 3 Factors That Determine Your Self Worth

To feel fulfilled, to be comfortable in your own skin, you must like yourself. You must look in the mirror and, despite being imperfect, you must enjoy what makes you, you.

There are many people with endless wealth and talent who’ve achieved things beyond our wildest dreams who will never feel good about themselves. There are others with extremely limited resources and no talent who’ve achieved nothing yet feel great about themselves. Why is this the case?

It turns out that how we feel about ourselves has little to do with external factors such as wealth or praise, despite how vigorously society promotes those values. How you feel about yourself—your self-esteem—is largely determined by three factors that are essentially out of your control.

First, and probably most impactful, is how you compare with your same-sex parent. The question being, have you achieved more or less than that parent? This gives an advantage in the happiness department to those of us from less well-off backgrounds.

The second factor is how you compare to your close peer group. We don’t tend to compare ourselves closely to people we don’t know well or see on television. While we may desire a house like Kim Kardashian’s, generally, not having one won’t overwhelm our psyche. But if someone you grew up with, someone with whom you have a similar background and with whom you’ve spent significant amounts of time, buys a mansion, cures cancer, or starts the next Facebook, it will impact how you feel about yourself.

Moral of the story: Avoid befriending billionaires.

The final factor is what type of affection you received when you were a child: conditional or unconditional. Did your parents give you love and praise only when you got good grades or your soccer team won the championship? If so, like a hamster, you’ll probably spend all or part of your life chasing praise and achievement. While that may lead you to do great things, it can also lead you to a lifelong feeling of lack. On the other hand, if your parents gave you love no matter your level of achievement, you’re likely to feel good about yourself no matter how things are going. That makes you much more resilient to failure; you won’t feel that a setback like losing a job defines your self worth.

You’ll never realize a fulfilled existence by focusing on external factors like wealth and achievement. The only path to sustainable fulfillment is to understand your internal, emotional self.

Once you discover what’s important to you, spend the rest of your days pursuing that mission, sharing your creations with others and getting closer to manifesting your best self.

That is the journey of a fulfilled life.

Alan Philips’s new book, The Age of Ideas, is available for pre-order now. To read more of Philip's work, head to his website.

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