Self-worth is the evaluation a person has about their own value. We talk about it so much that it sounds cliche. It is a concept that gets mocked as a source of arrogance and undeserved entitlement. Yet without it, we cannot truly have a sense of self as a member of society.
Our understanding of self-worth begins when we are infants and toddlers. We notice how we are treated and how people treat others then associate behaviors with rewards. Quickly, we learn who will help us and who will hurt us. As we develop empathy, we learn that we have the power to help or hurt others. It isn’t long before we start noticing patterns in social relationships and attempt to figure out where we stand among others.
Harshly Judging Each Other and Ourselves
The frustrating thing about being a human, a member of a social species, is that we need each other. When we need each other, we judge each other. We constantly identify who is valuable and helpful and who is not. Can I rely on you? What can you do for me? Are you worth my time and energy and respect? As we judge each other, we cannot help but also judge ourselves.
When we judge ourselves, we tend to ask those questions of self-worth. Am I important? Do people need me? Is there anything that I do that is useful? Do people want me around? Are they all better off without me? The answers to such questions can vary from day to day or even from situation to situation. Every answer either adds a point to our self-worth score or takes one away.
We fill ourselves with anxiety, regret, anger, and depressed hopelessness when we believe that our self-worth score will never be good enough. We begin to hear tiny voices in the background of our mind. Those voices say some of the most painful things a person can hear.
- “You’re useless.”
- “Nobody loves you or cares about you.”
- “You’ll never amount to anything.”
- “Nobody notices you because you aren’t worth noticing.”
- “You are not important.”
- “The world is better off without you in it.”
- “You are not good enough.”
- “You are nothing.”
Trying to Be Good Enough
We may find ourselves on a constant quest for someone or something that will help us answer our self-worth questions in ways that bring us satisfaction. Day after day, we check our self-worth score and seek the answer to the ultimate question: am I good enough? We tell ourselves, “If I do [fill in the task], then I will be good.”
Some of us focus on working harder, making more money, and building a legacy. Meanwhile, we miss out on moments to reflect on our own story.
Some of us focus on being as kind, charitable, and loving as possible, even to the point of being cruel to ourselves. Then no matter how much love we get in return, we somehow don’t trust that it is real.
We may try to collect possessions or have the perfect home or car or [fill in the item]. But no matter how many beautiful items surround us, we still feel as if we need more.
Even if we focus on how we appear to others and invest in plastic surgery, cosmetics, hair styling, fashion, and reshaping our bodies, we never seem to get the results quite right. No matter how attractive others say we are, we still feel ugly within and hope that no one sees us when we don’t look our best.
Noticing Your Inherent Self-Worth
Because self-worth requires us to evaluate ourselves in comparison to others, it can be difficult to think of ourselves as worthy or unworthy purely on objective information. It is not possible to completely stop comparing yourself to others, but you can change how you measure yourself. The first step is to expand your perspective. If you’re going to make comparisons, don’t just compare yourself to your neighbor, coworker, or family member. Start comparing yourself to others in the bigger picture of life. Some people use a spiritual perspective to measure their self-worth within this broader perspective, but science as a philosophy can help you discover your worthiness too.
The science of the cosmos has helped us recognize that without our universe there are billions of galaxies, and within them there are billions upon billions of stars and countless planets. There may even be other universes with even more stars and planets. And in all of that vast existence from the beginning of time to the end (if there is a start and end), anything can be possible. Within all these possibilities, the atoms and energies all came together at just the right place and at just the right time again and again, and from those many amazing moments, despite the enormous odds against it, an intelligent and emotional being came into existence and pondered it’s own sense of reality.
It was you.
In comparison to all the people who did not get to exist due to random chance or divine intervention, we are the lucky ones. We get to be here.
You are worthy because you are here.
Living a Worthy Life to Be Worthy
Your existence is a gift, and you get to decide how to use it. No matter what you decide to do, your choice is the right choice. Whatever you do is good enough for your life because it is YOUR LIFE. Nobody else gets to write your life story. Within that story, no one else gets to decide your self-worth or what it takes to be worthy of your life.
Even if you spend your life doing barely enough to survive, you are worthy of being here. Just being aware of life is a worthy endeavor. Likewise, if you choose to work endlessly, collect possessions, make money, and and have your body modified, those too are worthy endeavors. Your life, however you choose to live it, is valuable.
Your tasks do not determine if you are worthy of your life; it is your life that makes you worthy of living.