by Maili Tirel: School, psychologist and internet counselor with a passion for educating herself and others.
Confident people feel more at home in their skin and thus, they also seem happier, whereas people with lower self-esteem seem more worried and less happy. But does this relationship work the other way around, too? Can happiness lead to confidence?
It certainly seems that way. While the idea that higher self-esteem leads to more happiness seems more logical, there is a certain logic behind happiness influencing your confidence, too. Happy people are often in better contact with themselves and their emotions, and this contact can serve to raise their confidence.
In this article, I’ll take a closer look at the relationship between confidence and happiness. I’ll also share some tips on how you can boost your confidence by boosting your happiness.
What is confidence?
Put shortly, confidence is the belief in someone or something, and thus, self-confidence is the belief in oneself.
I have written about why confidence is hard to gain on The Happy Blog before, but here’s a quick recap on the difference between confidence and self-esteem, as it’s easy to mix them up:
- Self-confidence is is the belief in your own ability to succeed.
- Self-esteem is the evaluation of your worth.
Self-confidence is often related to specific situations and tasks, while self-esteem is a more general evaluation of your own value.
For example, back in high school, I definitely had low self- esteem. I struggled with finding my place in the world, I wasn’t happy with my looks, and would spend my days wishing I was someone else.
Despite my low self-esteem, I was confident in my abilities as a budding writer and essays came easy for me. I even became the proof-reader for most of my friends.
So, you can be confident in a certain area but still have low self-esteem. It works the other way around, too: you can have high self-esteem, but lack confidence in a specific activity or situation.
Despite their differences: confidence and self-esteem often go hand in hand - gaining confidence can boost your self-esteem and vice versa.
What is happiness?
When psychologists talk about “happiness”, we often mean something called subjective well-being. Subjective well-being, according to Ed Diener, the creator of the term, refers to a person’s cognitive and affective evaluations of his or her life.
“Cognitive”, in this case, refers to how a person thinks about the quality of their life, and “affective” refers to emotions and feelings.
The three components of subjective well-being are:
- Life satisfaction
- Positive affect
- Negative affect
Subjective well-being is higher and the person is happier when they are satisfied with their life and positive affect is frequent, while negative affect is rare or infrequent.
There are many things that affect our subjective well-being, like our health, relationships, career, and financial situation. While subjective well-being tends to be stable over time according to Diener, it is constantly being influenced by situational factors.
The relationship between happiness and confidence, according to science
Numerous studies confirm that higher self-confidence and self-esteem predict a higher level of happiness. For example, a 2014 paper found a statistically significant relationship between university students’ self-esteem score and happiness score.
Of course, correlation does not imply causation, but fortunately, that is not the only piece of evidence of the relationship between these constructs. A study published in 2013 in the European Scientific Journal found that self-esteem is an important predictor of happiness. According to the paper, psychological well-being, emotional self-efficacy, affect balance and self-esteem explain 51% of the total variance regarding happiness.
An older piece of research from 2002 found that in adolescents, higher self-confidence predicts happiness, while lower self-confidence predicts higher levels of loneliness, indicating the numerous ways in which confidence can affect our subjective well-being.
Another study from 2002 that focused on the subjective well-being of office workers, found that self-confidence, mood, and workability had a direct effect on general subjective well-being. According to the study, the combination of these three factors explains 68% of subjective well-being.
Can happiness lead to confidence?
It’s clear that confidence can boost happiness. But does it work the other way around?
There is some evidence that it does. A 2007 study found that happier people are more confident in their thoughts. The study, which is based on four separate experiments, went like this: first, the participants read a strong or weak persuasive communication. After listing their thoughts about the message, they were induced to feel happy or sad. Researchers found that relative to sad participants, those put in a happy state reported more thought confidence.
Of course, the link between the two isn’t always so clear and often includes mediators. For example, it has been found that optimism is strongly related to both self-esteem and happiness. Feeling optimistic, having your needs fulfilled, being satisfied with your level of education and your self worth are strong predictors for experiencing the highest self-esteem.
If that sounds a little complicated, there’s also a very simple connection between the two. When you’re happy, you see the world and yourself in a more positive light, which also makes it easier to gain and maintain confidence in your abilities.
Think about a bad day you’ve had recently. Often, when one thing goes wrong, it seems that everything else does, too.
For example, a couple of weeks ago my alarm didn’t ring in the morning. I overslept and was late to my Tuesday morning psychology class (the day after I had reminded my students about the importance of being on time, no less). In my hurry, I lost my USB stick and on top of it all, I forgot my headphones at home!
Usually, I try not to let this kind of daily hassles get to me, but for some reason, that Tuesday hit me harder than usual. I was not on top of my game, neither happiness or confidence-wise. By the evening, I was second-guessing simple things like making dinner, because I was sure that if I’d messed up everything else, I’d also find a way to burn my chicken.
Chances are that you have a similar story of your own.
The good news is that it works the other way around, too. When we are happy, our confidence gets a nice little boost. For example, I have found that when I’m well-rested and enjoying a crisp autumn morning, I’m also more confident in my choices and actions at work.
How to boost your confidence by boosting your happiness
As we’ve seen, there’s definitely a connection between happiness and confidence. But how can you use that knowledge to your advantage? Let’s take a look at a couple of simple tips.
1. Make a conscious decision to become happier
We often hope that we’ll get what we want by some merry accident, especially when it’s something a little bit abstract like happiness.
However, if you want to make a difference, you need to make the decision to start working towards finding your happiness. This often begins by defining what happiness is to you and taking stock of your current happiness level.
The most important thing to remember about confidence is that it is built by gaining experience and trust in your skills. By making a conscious decision to become happier, working towards your goal and celebrating your successes, you are also building confidence.
2. Do what you love
I know, I know. It sounds like a cliché (because it is a cliché), but this sentence is so over-used for a reason: it’s good advice.
Yes, sometimes you have to do what you have to do to get by, but in general, you should strive to be passionate about what you do.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that your passions bring you joy and happiness in both professional and personal life. It’s also likely that you are more motivated to improve in areas that you are more passionate about, which will boost your self-confidence.
3. Team up
Relationships are the key ingredient in happiness. It’s important to remember that you don’t have to take this journey alone.
Joining your local amateur football team, book club or non-profit organization can boost your happiness, because you are spending time with people who share your interests and values. What’s more, finding like-minded people will boost your confidence, too!
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There’s definitely a connection between happiness and confidence. Just as confident people are happier, happiness can also lead to confidence. So perhaps, when it feels like you’re always trying to boost your confidence, but nothing’s working, you should aim to be happier instead. Why not give it a try?
That's it for this article. Let's continue the discussion in the comments below! Do you have any examples of how you raised your confidence, and how it positively influenced your happiness? I'd love to know!