Motivation and emotion/Book/2015/Self-esteem and happiness

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Self-esteem and happiness:
What is the relationship between self-esteem and happiness?

Overview[edit | edit source]

Figure 1. How much do you value your happiness and self worth?
 "The most beautiful people I think in this world are the one’s that have that unique courage to be themselves. No matter what anyone says, no matter how many laugh or mock them, they continue to be themselves even if they are alone. They don’t change to get anyone to like them. They smile because they’re happy and content with themselves." - Author Unknown  

In the twenty-first century, people desire self-esteem and happiness[factual?]. They are highly valued, psychological constructs in our day to day lives, and the pursuit of happiness seems to be a goal that a lot of people have throughout their lives.

But consider this: how do we define these constructs that hold so much value and have so much sway in so many people’s lives? Does the generalisation that people with high self-esteem are happy and people with low self esteem are unhappy ring true? Not only that, but what is the relationship between an individual’s self-esteem and their happiness?

The current book chapter aims to provide some clarity about what makes up both self-esteem and happiness, and discuss the relationship between these two constructs.

Self-esteem[edit | edit source]

Proposed originally by William James in the 1890s, self-esteem is an important psychological construct which has been the subject of a large amount of discussion since its inception (Mruk, 2006; Neff & Vonk, 2009; Victoria & Sim, 2013. When defining self-esteem, it is difficult to pinpoint one standard definition however there are several recurring themes that are discussed. The general consensus from major theories is that self esteem is a feeling people have towards themselves in regards to their adequacy, competence or self worth (Lyubomirsky, Tkach & DiMatteo, 2006; Miller &B Daniel, 2007; Neff & Vonk, 2009; Swan et al. 2007)

How self-esteem works[edit | edit source]

Self esteem is considered to work on a continuum (Mruk, 2006). At one end of the continuum, there is low self esteem. The extreme of low self esteem is often discussed in relation to negative attributes, such as depression, negativity, and feelings of worthlessness (Baumeister et al. 2003; Mruk, 2006). On the other end of the spectrum is high self esteem. At the very extreme of high self esteem, positive factors such as strong feelings of self worth and favourable evaluations of self are displayed, and sometimes negative factors such as narcissism are also noted (Baumeister, Campbell, Krueger & Voh, 2003; Mruk, 2006). In saying this however, it is important to note that low esteem does not always lead to unhappiness, and high self esteem does not always lead to happiness.

Table 1.
Signs of Positive and Negative Self Esteem

Positive Self Esteem Negative Self Esteem
Confidence Negative view of life
Self direction Perfectionist attitude
Non-blaming behavior Generalized mistrust in others
Awareness of personal strengths Blaming behavior
Ability to make and learn from mistakes Fear of taking risks
Optimistic attitude Feelings of worthlessness
Problem solving abilities Dependency on others
Feeling comfortable with a wide range of emotions Fear of being ridiculed or judged by others


Defining self-esteem[edit | edit source]

Figure 3. Self-esteem is highly valued in individualistic cultures

Self-esteem is often referred to as situational or global, otherwise known as ‘state vs. trait’ or ‘unstable vs. stable’ (Baumeister et al. 2003; Mruk, 2006; Neff & Vonk, 2009). Situational self esteem refers to the type of self esteem that is impacted by your everyday experiences and fluctuations in mood. It seems relatively unstable due to the varying factors that are believed to impact it. Global self esteem is considered to be more stable amongst the other types of self esteem. It is said to more constant, impacted by dispositional factors, and defined in terms of one’s consistent evaluation of their self worth throughout their life (Furr, 2005; Mruk, 2006). For the purpose of this chapter, when self-esteem is mentioned it is in regards to global self esteem.

Components of self-esteem[edit | edit source]

Self-esteem consists of or is linked to certain constructs. Research into self esteem has found that the concept is highly correlated with optimism, sense of mastery, needs satisfaction, and hope, or the lack thereof (Neff & Vonk, 2009; Lyubomirsky, Tkach & DiMatteo, 2006; Victoria & Sim, 2013). In addition, some researchers suggest that self esteem is a cultural phenomenon which occurs mostly in individualistic cultures (Baumeister et al. 2003; Kong, Zhao & You, 2013; Lyubomirsky, Tkach & DiMatteo, 2006.)

For your own interest: Here is a link to a self esteem measure referred to as Rosenberg's Self-esteem Measure. Feel free to complete this measure if you're interested in your level of self esteem using this scale. Please keep in mind when interpreting your results though, this is just a short online version of the scale and the results and other confounding variables are not analysed by a professional.

Happiness[edit | edit source]

Figure 3. Happiness: 'The meaning of which everyody knows, but the definition of which no one can give'

Often referred to as ‘subjective well-being’, happiness is a concept more difficult to define than self-esteem (Diener, Diener & Diener, 1995; Furr, 2005; Lyubomirsky, Tkach & DiMatteo, 2006; Pannells & Claxton, 2008). There is a quote by Howard Mumford Jones (Lyubomirsky, Tkach & DiMatteo, 2006) that adequately describes articulating a narrow definition of happiness.

 ‘Happiness belongs to a category of words that the meaning of which everybody knows, but the definition of which no one can give’. (pp. 365) 

In saying this, however, there seems to be some consensus that happiness represents a pervasive sense of meaningfulness, fulfillment and/or pleasantness, which can either be temporary or long lasting (Dogan, Totan & Sapmaz, 2013; Furr, 2005; Lyubomirsky, Tkach & DiMatteo, 2006) In addition, happiness is often seen as a combination of a healthy balance between positive and negative affect, and overall life satisfaction (Diener, Diener & Diener, 1995; Lyubomirsky, Tkach & DiMatteo, 2006). This view was demonstrated and reaffirmed in a literature review by Pannells & Claxton (2008), who stated that happiness is a regular absence of negative affect, a relatively stable feeling of positive affect, and an overall general feeling of life satisfaction.

Defining happiness[edit | edit source]

As with self-esteem, happiness can be experienced in terms of trait and state happiness. Trait happiness is happiness that is relatively stable (Lyubomirsky, Tkach & DiMatteo, 2006). Trait happiness would be seen in a person who is considered a ‘happy person’ the majority of the time, and would be considered lacking in a person who is considered by themselves and those around them as an ‘unhappy person’. State happiness, as with situational self-esteem, can fluctuate slightly dependent on mood, and situational life experiences (Lyubomirsky, Tkach & DiMatteo, 2006). It would be the type of happiness present at the birth of one’s child or a person’s graduation, or lacking if someone was involve in a car accident or had experienced the death of a loved one. State happiness is not consistent, whereas trait happiness is, so when happiness referred to in this chapter, it is in regards to trait happiness (Lyubomirsky, Tkach & DiMatteo, 2006).

Components of happiness[edit | edit source]

Figure 4. What makes people happy?

Findings represented in Lyubomirsky and Colleagues (2006) suggest that mood state, loneliness, neuroticism and energy levels are variables that correlate highly with happiness, and that most variables related to happiness uniquely correspond with one of the following categories: social relationships, mood and temperament, and satisfaction with life. Additionally, constructs found consistently within happiness include self esteem, optimism, extraversion, and mastery of control (Diener, Diener & Diener, 1995; Lyubomirsky, Tkach & DiMatteo, 2006). In their review of happiness literature, Pannells and Claxton (2008) supported these findings and made reference to Argle (2001) and Myers (2002), who suggested that self esteem, control, optimism and life satisfaction are all considered components of happiness. This is also made apparent in the Oxford Happiness Inventory (OHI) which includes life satisfaction, self esteem, positive outlook (optimism), as well as empathy, efficacy, physical wellbeing and cheerfulness as major factors of happiness (Furr, 2005).

Table 2.
Some of the components of happiness

Components of happiness
Self-esteem Mood states
Optimism Energy levels
Mastery of control Positive affect
Life satisfaction Negative affect
Loneliness Efficacy
Neuroticism Cheerfulness
Social relationships Physical wellbeing

For your own interest: Here is a link to a happiness measure referred to as Oxford Happiness Questionnaire. Feel free to complete this measure if you're interested in your level of happiness using this scale. Please keep in mind when interpreting your results though, this is just a short online version of the scale and the results and other confounding variables are not analysed by a professional.

The Relationship between Self-esteem and Happiness[edit | edit source]

Given that both self-esteem and happiness have been shown to have positive impacts on people’s lives, it would appear important to understand their relationship in an effort to improve one's quality of life.

Substantial empirical evidence over the past decade has supported a significant relationship between self esteem and happiness (Furr, 2005; Lyubomirsky, Tkach & DiMatteo, 2006; Mruk, 2006) That is, people with high self esteem appear to be happier, are less likely to be depressed, and lead happier, more fulfilling lives. How this relationship exists and the degree to which it exists however, is still inconclusive. Some research indicates that self- esteem and happiness are interrelated constructs and some state that self- esteem is a precursor for or sub-component of happiness. Taking an alternative route, others believe that the two constructs are synonymous or even entirely different entities (Lyubomirsky, Tkach & DiMatteo, 2006). These different views will now be discussed.

Correlated constructs[edit | edit source]

Figure 5. Self-esteem and happiness are often considered correlated constructs

Of the research conducted thus far, the most common view arising from empirical research through studies and meta analyses is that there is a significant positive correlation between self-esteem and happiness (Furr, 2005; Lyubomirsky, Tkach & DiMatteo, 2006). This is represented in research by Lyubomirsky and Lepper (2002, Baumeister et al. 2003; Lyubomirsky et al. 2006) as well as Shackelford (2001) included individuals aged between 17-95, and although one set of research focused on ages 17 to 41 and the other 51-95, both their results indicated that self esteem and happiness were highly correlated.

Although slightly older, research by Diener and Colleagues (1995; Baumeister et al. 2003; Furr, 2005) and a meta analysis by DeNeves and Cooper (1998; Baumeister et al. 2003) both support this claim and are still discussed in regards to their findings in this area. Diener and Colleagues (1995) conducted a large scale, international study of happiness and self esteem which reached as many as 49 universities over 31 countries. Results from both studies revealed correlations between .3 and .5, indicating a significant relationship between happiness and self esteem (Baumeister et al. 2003, Diener et al. 1995; Furr, 2005)

Although they are correlated, researchers highlight that these correlations are not conclusive and by no means indicative of a causative link (Furr, 2005). The degree to which this correlation impacts upon the relationship is yet to be determined. It could be that higher self esteem somehow leads to greater feelings of positive affect and happiness, or it could be that experiencing greater feelings of happiness and positive affect may in fact impact upon an individual’s self esteem. Irrespective of the correlation, many researchers who hold the view that they are correlated make the point that they are indeed two separate constructs and can be measured and utilised separately (Furr, 2005).

Synonymous constructs[edit | edit source]

A second model of thought amongst some researchers is that the constructs of self-esteem and happiness are synonymous. Quite often this is considered because these researchers believe that the components that make up each construct overlap so closely that they cannot be differentiated (Lyubomirsky, Tkach & DiMatteo, 2006). The factors that most strongly overlap are that of optimism, hopefulness and a sense of mastery (Lyubomirsky, Tkach & DiMatteo, 2006). Research by Lyubomirsky and Colleagues (2006) also found that factors such as domain satisfaction, needs satisfaction and purpose in life were highly related to both self esteem and happiness.

Self-esteem as a sub-component of happiness[edit | edit source]

Figure 6. Model proposed by Dogan and Colleagues (2013) demonstrating self-esteem as a component of happiness

Varying from the view that these two constructs are synonymous is the model that suggests that self esteem is in fact a sub-component of happiness. This has been demonstrated in research by a select number of authors presented within Dogan and Colleagues (2013) article, and suggests that self esteem might in fact be a predictor of happiness due to such a high correlation. This is demonstrated through Dogan and Colleagues (2013) model of self esteem. This model (as seen in the picture to the right) suggests that three factors (psychological well-being, emotional self efficacy and affect balance) influence self esteem, which then in turn impacts upon an individual’s happiness. The results from their research support this model. Additionally, Furnham and Cheng (2000; Baumeister et al. 2003) conducted research measuring predictors of happiness, and their results found that self esteem was the most powerful predictor of happiness.

Unrelated constructs[edit | edit source]

Figure 7. Some researchers consider happiness and self-esteem completely different constructs

Why is it that some people appear present high levels of happiness and low levels of self esteem or low levels of happiness and high levels of self esteem? This question, as well as findings from a few areas of research, has lead to another alternative view of the relationship between happiness and self esteem. Some researchers suggest that these two constructs are completely unrelated, and although they can occur both positively and negatively under similar circumstances, there is no substantial evidence that one is indicative of the other (Furr, 2005; Lyubomirsky, Tkach & DiMatteo, 2006). However, this view is not as strongly supported through empirical research as the others mentioned above.

Considerations[edit | edit source]

Although research has provided some substantial evidence, it is clear that more research is required on the relationship between self esteem and happiness to uncover more conclusive answers. In addition, there are just a few things to consider in regards to the interpretation of the current results. Most measurements of happiness and self-esteem reported in the studies in this chapter are subjective or self report measures (Lyubomirsky, Tkach & DiMatteo, 2006). This is due to the fact that objective measures can rarely provide as accurate answers of one's beliefs as one can report about their own. This does not mean, however, that the subjective measures should be considered conclusive without careful consideration and further exploration. It is also important to note that the findings presented are all correlation due to the nature of the research. So although the correlation is strong for a fair few of the studies, this by no means indicates that the relationship is causational for any of the research.

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

In the 21st century, people seem to desire self-esteem and happiness, which are both important psychological constructs. Self-esteem is generally defined in regards to an individual's feelings towards their adequacy, competence and/or self worth, and happiness is generally defined by a balance between positive and negative affect and life satisfaction. When discussing the relationship between the two constructs, empirical evidence has found that there is a significant positive correlation between the two. It is important to note that these findings are correlational, and future research could aim to address inconsistencies within the literature and work towards defining a more causative link. Furthering research in this area would be beneficial because a greater understanding of the relationship between the two could lead to avenues to assist in improving both self-esteem and happiness in peoples[grammar?] lives.

Test yourself[edit | edit source]


1 What does the general consensus from major theories suggest the recurring themes of self-esteem are?

Adequacy, competence and self worth
Self worth, optimism and competence
Competence, adequacy and happiness
happiness, optimism and self worth

2 What is the most stable form of self-esteem?

State self-esteem
Situational self-esteem
Unstable self-esteem
Global self-esteem

3 Is happiness easy to define?


4 What is happiness seen to be a combination of?

Positive affect, subjective wellbeing and mood
Positive affect, negative affect and life satisfaction
Trait happiness, mood and life satisfaction

5 Which of the following is the most common view of the relationship between self-esteem and happiness?

Correlated constructs
Synonymous constructs
Self-esteem as a sub component of happiness
Unrelated constructs

6 Are these findings correlation or causation?


See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

Baumeister, R. F., Campbell, J. D., Krueger, J. I., & Vohs, K. D. (2003) Does high self-esteem cause better performance, interpersonal success, happiness, or healthier lifestyles? Science in the Public Interest, 4(1): 1–44, doi: N/A

Baumeister, R.F., Campbell, J.D., Krueger, J.I., Vohs, K.D. (2005) Exploding the Self-Esteem Myth, Scientific American, 292(1): 84-91, doi: 10.1038/scientificamerican0105-84

Diener, E., Diener, M., Diener, C. (1995) Factors Predicting the Subjective Well-Being of Nations, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 69(5): 851-864, doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.69.5.851

Dogan, T., Totan, T., Sapmaz, F. (2013) The Role of Self Esteem, Psychological Well-Being, Emotional Self-Efficacy, and Affect Balance on Happiness: A Path Model, European Scientific Journal, 9(20): 31- 42, doi: N/A

Furnham, A., Cheng, H. (2000) Lay Theories of Happiness, Journal of Happiness Studies, 1(2): 227-246, doi: 10.1023/A:1010027611587

Furr, M.R. (2005) Differentiating Happiness and Self-esteem, Individual Differences Research, 3(2):105-127, doi: N/A

Kong, F., Zhao, J., You, X. (2013) Self-Esteem as a Mediator and Moderator of the Relationship Between Social Support and Subjective Well Being Among Chinese University Students, Social Indicators Research, 112(1): 151-161, doi: 10.1007/s11205-012-0044-6

Lyubomirsky, S., Tkach, C., DiMatteo, R. (2006) What are the Differences between Happiness and Self-esteem, Social Indicators Research, 78(3): 363-404, doi: 10.1007/s11205-005-0213-y

Miller, D., Daniel, B. (2007) Competent to Cope, Worthy of Happiness? School Psychology International, 28(5): 605-622, doi: 10.1177/0143034307085661

Mruk, C.J.J. (2006) Self-Esteem Research, Theory and Practice: Towards a Positive Psychology of Self-Esteem (Eds.), Springer Publishing Company, New York, NY.

Nayer, C. (N/D) The Value of Self-esteem, Accessed Via:

N/A (N/D)Self Esteem, Accessed Via:

Neff, K.D., Vonk, R. (2009) Self Comparison versus Global Self Esteem: Two Different Ways of Relating to Oneself, Journal of Personality, 77(1): 23-50, doi: 10.1111/j.1467-6494.2008.00537.x

Pannells, T., Claxton, A.F. (2008) Happiness, Creative Ideation, and Locus of Control, Creativity Research Journal,20(1): 67-71, doi: 10.1080/10400410701842029

Swan, W., Chang-Schneider, L., Larsen McClarty, K. (2007) Do Peoples Self Views Matter? Self Concept and Self Esteem in Everyday Life, American Psychologist, 62(2): 84-94, doi: 10.1037/0003-066X.62.2.84

Victoria, A., Sim, T. (2013) The Development and Validation of a God- Centred Self-Esteem Scale, Journal of Psychology and Theology, 41(1), doi: N/A

  1. N/A (N/D)Self Esteem, Accessed Via: