The Economic Reason Why Self-Worth Is the Only Worth

I never really grokked why people emphasized “love yourself” and made such a big deal about self-worth. I mean, I guess I kind of intellectually got it, but it didn’t make sense to me.

If you already understand why that’s important at a fundamental level, this post may not be for you. Everybody else…

This came up in a conversation with a friend of mine, who’s in a bit of a tough spot with his new boyfriend. He said, “With him it’s never enough. I can never do enough. I’m not enough. So I’m not sure how much I am worth, really.”

There was something about the starkness of the way he said it that clarified the whole thing for me; the rest of this is an expanded version of my reply to him.

This is Economics 101, really, along with a bit of crappy linguistic bleed in the way we use language. 

So first, language, and using “worth”. We’re using the same word that we use in economics to talk about markets and exchanges. While it’s a bit (okay, extremely) tacky for us to talk about the economic worth of different people, and the whole discussion totally discounts the idea of love and affection, this is the word we use in our heads to describe our sense of self-value, even if that’s not how we’d describe the way we care about the people we love.

Right. Now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about “worth” and “value”.

Those are both relative and subjective terms – fundamentally, inherently, and always.
I mean that the value of anything varies hugely from person to person, and sometimes even moment to moment.  I am not talking about market fluctuations, though those make things even even less uniform. 
In the global West, it’s easy to forget that “worth” and “value” do not have some concrete value.  We put stickers with the price (or “value” or “worth”) on most things, but that’s simply an illusion.

The value, worth, or price that we see is the highest price that the maximum number of people will pay (or alternatively, the price that maximizes profit if a lower price has more people buying the item). But that’s an aggregate valuation.

Take a candy bar. When you’re hungry, it’s worth a lot – you’d pay more. After you’ve had a bunch of candy bars? You would pay less.

This example is often used to illustrate how demand curves change, but its most important aspect here is reminding us that demand curves are individual.

Let’s illustrate: I am not a small guy. I am fairly hairy.  I am a nerd and a geek, and a bit of a goof. I describe myself as a cross between a tanuki, a bear, a golden retriever, Ben Wyatt from Parks & Rec, and a bit of Silent Bob (without the silent parts). 

For some people, that means I’m… well, repulsive. Not just “unattractive”, but downright gross.  For some others (thankfully, though I don’t understand it!), I’m really attractive. My worth as a sex object to the first group is a negative number.  My worth to the second group is a positive number.

And if you try to reconcile those both into how to value yourself… well, good luck with that.

So for your life – because you do have to recognize that the only person you have to live with is yourself – trying to base your self-worth on other people’s valuation of you simply doesn’t make economic sense. 

Your self-worth has to be based on, quite literally, your self-valuation of yourself.

Amusingly, doing that – and then identifying how to increase your satisfaction with yourself – will probably raise your value in other people’s eyes as well.

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