This article first appeared on Happify.com.
Did you know that the average person is exposed to as many as 5,000 ads a day? I know what you must be thinking, because frankly, I tried to brush it off with the same thought. “Not me—I rarely ever pay attention to an ad. ”
However, research shows that these blink-and-you’ll-miss-it messages seep into our subconscious and silently influence our beliefs and assumptions. Given that we spend90% of our lives in unconscious thoughts and behaviors, it affects the way we think about ourselves and show up in the world.
Consider for a moment the explicit message in most of them: “Lose 20 pounds and you’ll wash all your worries away” or “Buy this now and your life will change forever” . Days on the beach, an enviable body, a stunning smile, the latest iPhone, the list is endless. What is troubling though is their implicit message.
Their constant barrage makes us believe that a life worth living lies in the possession of material goods and consumable experiences, and that unless we have them, we are deprived, wanting and worthless. Whether it is through the privileged pout of models, their euphoric ecstasy, or their look of complete nirvana, we are made to be miserably aware of the body, beauty, goods and experiences that we lack.
No wonder, then, that most of us are in the pursuit of material possessions, and oblivious of the deep inner desire for meaning and purpose. Academic philosopher Simon Blackburn says that this leads to a kind of vanity at best—the desire to win the approval and applause of others, regardless of the quality of our achievements. At worst, it borders on narcissism and contempt for those not cool enough to buy the goods and experiences we were smart enough to get.
Real self-worth comes from a much deeper source within us. It comes from an inner acknowledgement that our pursuits are genuine and worthy, regardless of other people’s opinions. As such, it leads to pride, one of our “big 10 emotions” and the wellbeing that comes with it.
Sounds easy? I wish! Most of us do care about what others think of us. After all, we are social creatures, and wired to seek appreciation and connection. When our actions are not validated by others, we harbor doubt. When they are criticized, we grow our own voice of self-criticism.
So how do we build a lasting source of self-worth that is independent of approval and applause?
Know Your Sources of Self-worth
True self-worth grows from a place of awareness. Knowing our passions, and experiencing moments of awe and rapture allow us to connect to what makes us truly come alive. Through art and creative endeavors, by immersing ourselves in nature or belonging to meaningful relationships, we express our authenticity and take risks for what we love. It makes us vulnerable, yes, but it also makes us proud and worthy in our mind’s eye.
Recognize Your Inner Critic
The inner critic is the voice of the ego—the voice that fears the disapproval of others. It grows from early experiences in life, from the constant onslaught of explicit and implicit messages and from societal expectations that are oblivious to our real needs and desires. Recognizing this voice is essential to creating distance from it, so that we can hear its voice of disdain without taking it to heart. It is the only way of passionately pursuing what grows our self-worth.
Differentiate Self-Care from Self-Consciousness
Self-care is an essential part of our self-worth. It means looking after our inherent needs, whether it is our sleep, exercise or creative expressions. Philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau called this “amour de soi”, and differentiated it from “amour propre,” which is what self-consciousness is all about. Focusing too much on our appearance can create undue stress and anxiety, and also distance us from genuine interactions that build a sense of self-worth.
Be Aware on Social Media
Social media holds great potential in helping us raise our voice for causes we are willing to take a stand for. And yet, for the most part, we use it to feed an inherent need for approval and the innate drive to compete. We see it in the culture of selfies and other manner of self-promotional photography that is heavily photo-shopped to make us appear as natural as possible. Aside from the feelings of envy and jealousy it arouses in others, it feeds an inner vanity that is dependent on “likes”, “shares” and superficial praise. One way to use social media more consciously, is to build our self-worth through passionate involvement in causes and campaigns that matter to us.
Building a sense of lasting self-worth that is independent of other people’s opinions can be difficult in the largely connected world we live in. But by becoming aware of what we truly care about, we can ignore the fear of judgment and dive passionately into what makes us truly come alive. We owe this to ourselves as much as we owe it to the world.
What are your sources of self-worth! Is it creative expression, meaningful relationships or causes you feel deeply about? Or something totally different?