1. Authentic Self-Esteem: Don't Be Shy, by Cat Stevens.
"Don't be shy, just let your feelings roll on by. And don't wear fear, or nobody will know you're there. Just lift your head and let your feelings out instead."
Authentic self-esteem is critical to mental health and well-being, but there are a lot of things that can get in the way. It's sometimes hard to know what your true self really is and what you yourself really want. And even when you do know what you want, it can be hard to express your true self when it conflicts with family or societal expectations, or when you're afraid of failure. So next time your feeling stifled, put on some Cat Stevens and don't be shy about dancing around your living room. (Other options: Cat Stevens' If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out, Phil Collins' True Colors, and Katy Perry's Firework).
2. Intrinsic Self-Esteem: The Greatest Love of All, by Whitney Houston
"No matter what they take from me, they can't take away my dignity."
Like authentic self-esteem, intrinsic self-esteem is derived from within, independent of external outcomes like success and failure or acceptance and rejection. Research suggests that intrinsic self-esteem is more stable and results in lower defensiveness compared to more extrinsic forms of self-esteem. Unfortunately, much of our sense of self is based on others' perceptions, making it hard to generate self-esteem from within. Although it may seem paradoxical, one way to build intrinsic self-esteem is to draw on experiences of unconditional love–that is, the feeling of being accepted for who you are, not what you do. (Also see Josh Groban's You Are Loved–it will really make you feel loved).
3. Collective Self-Esteem: We Are The Champions, by Queen
"No time for losers 'cause we are the champions... of the world."
As we approach Olympics season, national pride is on people's minds. One important (though sometimes problematic) source of self-esteem is derived from the groups that we belong to or identify with, whether that group is a sports team, an ethnic group, or a country. Collective self-esteem gives us a boost when our group does well, but when our group does poorly or we feel that its status is threatened, we might resort to outgroup derogation, discrimination, and violence. So enjoy your ingroup pride, but don't forget our common humanity. (Other options for inspiring national and more local pride: Beyonce's cover of Lee Greenwood's Proud To Be An American, Whitney Houston's rendition of the National Anthem, and Jay-Z and Alicia Keys' Empire State of Mind–and its many regional spin-offs).
4. Body Esteem: Sexy and I Know it, by LMFAO
"When I walk by, girls be looking like damn he fly..."
Research suggests that up to 80% of American women are dissatisfied with their appearance, and many men are also insecure about their looks. With the media's constant onslaught of unattainable beauty ideals, it's understandable that so many people feel that they can't measure up. There's nothing like "Sexy and I Know It" to remind you that feeling sexy is all about your attitude, not objective reality. (If you want a more serious body esteem song, there's also Christina Aguilera's Beautiful and TLC's Unpretty).
5. Self-Acceptance: Born This Way, by Lady Gaga
"I'm beautiful in my way, 'cause God makes no mistakes. I'm on the right track, baby, I was born this way."
Lady Gaga is the poster child for self-acceptance. Her single Born This Way is an empowering anthem for anyone who feels shame in being who they are, whether related to their sexual orientation, ethnicity, disability, social class, or anything else that makes them different. Demonstrating that she practices what she preaches, Lady Gaga recently created a non-profit organization called the Born This Way Foundation devoted to youth empowerment, self-esteem-building, and anti-bullying. (The list of self-acceptance pop songs is endless: Also see Pink's Perfect and Raise Your Glass, Bruno Mars' Just The Way You Are, and Robyn's Dream On).
6. Self-Confidence: U Can't Touch This, by MC Hammer.
"It feels good, when you know you're down. A superdope homeboy from the Oaktown. And I'm known as such, and this is a beat, uh, you can't touch."
There are a lot of songs that could fit this category, but U Can't Touch This is a classic (and it brings back fond memories of Hammer pants being all the rage when I was in 5th grade). Although inflated self-confidence might seem like it could backfire, research suggests that overconfident people–those who overestimate their abilities relative to objective markers–are actually perceived as more competent by peers and go on to gain higher status in groups, regardless of how competent they actually are. So there's nothing wrong with erring on the side of building yourself up a little, as long as you don't resort to belittling others or blatant deception. Unfortunately for MC Hammer, overconfidence may have contributed to financial problems–he filed for bankruptcy in 1996, soon after making it big–but he got back on his feet again.
7. Humble Self-Esteem: Wind Beneath My Wings, by Bette Midler
"Did you ever know that you're my hero? You're everything I wish I could be. I can fly higher than an eagle, cause you are the wind beneath my wings... It might have appeared to go unnoticed, but I've got it all here in my heart. I want you to know I know the truth, of course I know it. I would be nothing without you."
This song always gives me chills. In the age of self-esteem, it can be easy to forget that our personal accomplishments are inexorably linked to the people who have supported us and the good fortune we have stumbled upon. Humble self-esteem is not the same as low self-esteem. It involves seeing oneself as worthy but not more worthy than others, and not without flaws. Researchers have argued that healthy forms of humility involve components like low self-focus, openness to new ideas, having a sense of perspective on one's own accomplishments, and appreciation for others' contributions. Recent research suggests that humble people have better relationships and may even be physically healthier. So when you're pumping yourself up, don't forget to keep your ego in check.
For more psychology-related songs, see this previous post.
Kernis, M. (2003). TARGET ARTICLE: Toward a Conceptualization of Optimal Self-Esteem Psychological Inquiry, 14 (1), 1-26 DOI: 10.1207/S15327965PLI1401_01