Banker or binman, care worker or chief executive, we are all fundamentally the same. We all want to be happy. Each of us wants to feel proud of our achievements and to be respected for them. We all seek a partner and family who love us. Everyone strives for a meaningful, satisfying life. These shared goals and desires are what make us human.
But if we suffer from low self-esteem we will struggle to enjoy our day-to-day existence. Every criticism cuts us to the quick, while praise just bounces off because we don't believe it. No matter what we achieve, how much we earn or how often others tell us we are decent and good, we struggle to accept it. Because deep down, at our very core, we feel bad, flawed, unlovable.
So if you have low self-esteem it's important to work on it, either with a therapist or with some 'bibliotherapy' from an excellent book like Melanie Fennell's Overcoming Low Self-Esteem. I recommend this book to all my clients with esteem issues - it's designed as a CBT self-help workbook, so you can learn to be your own therapist (much cheaper too, I must admit!).
But in my opinion, even more important than self-esteem is self-acceptance. That's because we often gain self-esteem through the things we do, have or achieve. Especially in our celebrity-obsessed culture, we have come to equate self-esteem with being famous (even if it's just for being famous), skinny, youthful or wealthy. This kind of esteem is superficial and unsustainable, because what happens when your youth is gone, or you find that money doesn't bring happiness after all (for example: did you know that, after a while, lottery winners return to their baseline happiness levels, or even end up more unhappy than they were before winning?).
Self-acceptance means feeling good about yourself right now, exactly as you are - inhabiting this imperfect body, with these wrinkles on your face, famous/not-famous, rich/poor, married/single. This is not easy, and counterintuitive in some ways, because we all have parts of us we try to disown or pretend are not there. Unfortunately, this doesn't work very well, because the harder we try to ignore the bits we don't like (our anger, say, or vulnerability) the more loudly they clamour for our attention. So it's better to accept yourself warts and all.
Meditation is an excellent companion on your journey towards self-acceptance, because the more you meditate, the more you come to realise that true happiness and contentment lies within. To be happy, we must let go of what the Buddha called the mind's three poisons: greed, hatred and delusion (in other words: wanting more stuff; being angry with or hating others; and refusing to see things as they are, rather than as we wish they were). Ironically, happiness lies in doing exactly the opposite of what those celebrity magazines tell us to do - craving things we don't need is what makes us miserable, not lacking them.
Remember that you are perfectly okay, right now, exactly as you are. That doesn't mean you should just give up or never try to be happier, wiser, stronger - but try to accept yourself as you are at each stage of that lifelong journey.
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