“Happiness and confidence are the prettiest things you can wear.” Taylor Swift
When asked of the most important outcome of heaving a healthy confidence, many would likely state “success.” Happiness, on the other hand, is a feeling we tend to associate with life satisfaction and well-being, with being healthy, having good friends and relationships, and fulfilling careers.
We rarely directly link confidence and happiness. In fact, it doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of publicity about their close alliance. No self-help advice along the lines of “to be perpetually happy, become more confident.”
So, is it true, indeed, that confident people are also happier?
Let’s examine what the great academic minds have uncovered.
But before we delve into the more sciency details, let’s first settle on the proper definitions.
Happiness is also called “subjective well-being” and according to most scientists, it’s quite hard to define. Howard Mumford Jones, a Harvard University Professor and a renowned journalist and writer, once said that “happiness…belongs to that category of words, the meaning of which everybody knows but the definition of which nobody can give” (cited in Freedman, 1978).
Confidence (as an outer manifestation of our self-esteem) is a bit more universal to define. It’s our evaluation of our own worth. Its levels are based on elements as self-acceptance, self-respect, positive self-image. It’s also believed to be relatively stable but challenging to influence.
A vast amount of research tells us that a rather deep friendship exists between the two. Namely, higher confidence leads to greater happiness.
Below is just a small fraction of the support that exists in favor of the positive link between the two:
- A study from 2014 on 200 students has found a positive relationship between self-esteem and happiness—that is, the increase in the former leads to an enhancement in the latter. Another recent small-scale research from Ireland also unveils that favorable self-assessments are positively liked to happiness and life satisfaction.
- Perhaps one of the most widely-cited paper on the link between the two states is that of Prof. Roy Baumeister, titled “Does Self-Esteem Cause Better Performance, Interpersonal Success, Happiness, or Healthier Lifestyles?” In it, he quotes a large-scale study done with 31,000 college students from 49 universities, 31 counties and five continents. High self-esteem was the most important factor which predicted overall life satisfaction, and the link between confidence and happiness was 47%, which in statistics evidences very close relationship.
Other studies, which Prof. Baumeister references in his paper, support the above conclusions— that is, self-esteem predicts happiness.
Well-being and Life Satisfaction
A decade ago, Mary Guindon—a former chair of and associate professor in the Department of Counseling and Human Services at John Hopkins University, and a consultant, educator and a teacher on the issues of mental health, career development and self-esteem, among others, conducted a survey of school counselors in New Jersey.
Participants were asked to list five words which best described students with high and low self-esteem. High self-worth students, turns out, were perceived as confident, friendly outgoing, happy, positive/ optimistic, and motivated. In comparison, the low-assured students came across as withdrawn/shy/ quiet, insecure, underachieving, negative, unhappy, socially inept, unmotivated, depressed, dependent/ followers, with poor self-image.
In another widely popular piece of research, empirical studies show that high and low self-value individuals also differed tremendously in…well, almost everything. Low esteem people are believed to be more sensitive toward criticism, more emotionally unstable, to react more negatively to failure, and to inhibit high doses of social anxiety and self-consciousness—that is, low confidence was linked to greater unhappiness.
The Affair with Failure
High self-esteem (as opposed to low) helps us to weather some of the “emotional distress” which comes from experiencing negative events, distress, and rejection. How so? Because people with high self-esteem have a different mindset when it comes to failure, Prof. Jonathon Brown—a renowned social psychologist and a self-esteem researcher from the University of Washington, Seattle, U.S.— has discovered. Confidence servers as a buffer, he believes.
Simply put, his research confirms, self-assured individuals view failures as temporary setbacks and as opportunities. What’s more—they also don’t judge themselves as disappointments—i.e. their levels of self-worth remain unchanged after a letdown.
Low esteem is often paired with social aversion, shyness, desire to “be left alone,” and unwillingness to meet new people.
Confident individuals, in contrast, are more likely to socialize and to look to expand their network of friends and acquaintances. As they believe in themselves and the value they have to offer to the world, they also recognize the importance of networking and creating bonds as a way become appreciated, supported and recognized.
And even of greater significance is that, according to research, our close relationships are the main predictor of happiness in life. Therefore, once again, studies tend to agree that self-assured individuals are happier, as they seek to create lasting and caring relationships.
Confident people generally don’t look for external self-validations, as low esteemers. They don’t have to, as they know exactly how much they are worth.
As we all recognize, comparisons to others are frequently a major cause of unhappiness, anxiety and life dissatisfaction. A “I-want-more-than-others” outlook is a very dangerous mental framework, which throws us in a perpetual measure-up against others. Nothing is good enough, and we ourselves often feel as not good enough.
However, the Social Comparison theory tells us that confident people may engage in comparisons to others who fare better too. But it’s driven by a motivation to improve, rather that a desire to prove to ourselves and others that we are worth it.
Confidence (and self-esteem) as a component of happiness
A final piece of evidence comes from a recent research on the link between the two states, published in the European Scientific Journal. What transpired from the studies was rather intriguing. 51% of the variations in our happiness are due to a combination of our self-esteem, psychological well—being (positive relationships, competence and meaning in life), and affect balance (the openness to and the ability to enjoy many emotions).
Therefore, as this research confirms, higher confidence leads to greater happiness—it’s that simple.
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In the end, it’s worth noting that it will be probably erroneous to assume that confident people are always happy. They don’t wear rose-colored glasses all the time. We all experience setbacks, failures, unfavorable events, which make us feel anxious, worried, distressed and unhappy. It’s part of life.
In fact, some research suggests that it’s possible to be confident and unhappy—mostly in situations where such individuals haven’t reached their goals or are exposed to adversaries. However, the fundamental difference is that high esteemers can overcome such interim states and move forward much quicker than their counterparts.
As already mentioned, confident individuals tend to be more emotionally stable, have a more constructive outlook and feel greater self-acceptance and respect.
Because of this, they are also able to focus on the positives in life, to enjoy greater relationships, to compare themselves less to the Joneses, and rather—to seek enrichment through experiences, and self-improvement. They are simply better equipped to deal with life, to manage stress and to reach their goals.
And all these benefits that confidence brings translate into an improved long-term well-being and life satisfaction—that is, a state we often call “living the good life”— which, in turn, is what gives us a sense of joy, peace with ourselves, excitement and gratitude. I.e. Happiness.