Centre for Confidence and Well-being

Skip to content

Positive Psychology & self-esteem

There are almost no findings showing that self-esteem causes anything at all. Rather self-esteem is caused by the whole panoply of successes or failures in the world.
Martin Seligman, The Optimistic Child, 1995

If you tell the ordinary person in the street about Positive Psychology he or she will think that feeling good about yourself is partly what this new movement is about. In other words, they will think it includes self-esteem. Research shows that there is indeed a strong correlation between happiness and self-esteem However, despite the obvious connections, Positive Psychology has turned its back on self-esteem. Most Positive Psychology books only mention it in passing. One of the explanations for this is that Professor Martin Seligman, one of the leaders of the new movement, is very critical of what parents and teachers have done in the USA to boost young people's self-esteem. He argues that not only has it encouraged too much self-absorption but also has contributed to the epidemic of depression in young people.

We think there is much merit in Professor Seligman's critique. However, as a Centre for Confidence and Well-Being we think that Positive Psychology should not just ignore the concept but has to be clearer about its relationship to self-esteem - particularly if Positive Psychology is to be relevant to parents or those working with young people. 

We also believe that confidence is a useful concept and can be disentangled from self-esteem. 

Centre Events Previous Centre Events External Events Carol's Talks