Science tells us that our body is worth exactly 89 cents in chemicals, post- mortem. That doesn’t do much for our self-esteem, does it? The good news is that we all have an opportunity to “add value” to our personal worth.

Before we go forth with this topic, however, let’s consider the concept of personal value and worth itself. Imagine being asked the following question: How much are you worth? For most of us, such a question might lead us to bank accounts, income tax forms, and wills. Or some of us might relate the question of worth to status. Do we have a title of some sort? Are we known as CEO Smith, or Judge Jones, or even Dr. Whomever? For most of us, the question of worth would not lead us toward the concept of relationships. And yet, closer examination shows us that personal worth and resultant happiness, flows from relationship accomplishment.

We gain personal value and worth via the amount of love, in all of its forms, that we both give and receive over the course of our lives.

So, if we accept the idea that personal worth is indeed attached to the building and maintenance of relationships, where do we go from here?

In past newsletters, we have discussed the findings of Dr. Martin Seligman. Essentially, his work deals with the concept of happiness and how we accomplish it. Seligman observes that individuals pursue happiness via these three distinct pathways:

1. The pleasured life – This involves the search for enjoyment, and the sense of value and worth that we derive from it. The finest bottle of wine, the most beautiful sunset, or the ultimate yogurt. It is seeking the peak experience in all areas of life. Such experiences do generate pleasure but are quickly satiating. While the first spoonful of one’s favorite ice cream is wonderful, the happiness ebbs as we finish the bowl.

2. The engaged life – This form of happiness involves immersion into a preferred activity. Whether it is reading, a hobby, or a favorite video game, time seems to stand still while participating in the selected behavior. Whether it is labeled as work or hobby, the hours fly by. While these events produce a feeling of happiness, they do little to enhance our personal worth. We do not become more worthy for completing a tome or blowing up a new record number of electronic space ships.

3. The meaningful life – This highest form of happiness, according to Dr. Seligman, comes from preferred actions that benefit others in some way. A talented salesman may produce generous commissions from his skills with customers but will derive the greatest happiness and life satisfaction, if the product or service he markets has some social value. Be it health or the attainment of an educational goal, or the security provided via continued employment, a leader’s greatest source of gratification comes from seeing him/herself as a conduit of benefit to others. The bonus check affirms our sense of personal accomplishment and worth but feels best if the money is placed in a child’s college fund rather than for a $500 bottle of champagne. Meaning trumps pleasure every time.

So back to 89 cents and our personal worth. Is there a connection between happiness and personal worth? It appears so.

Homework: Forget bank accounts, personal titles and labels, and focus instead on activities that benefit others in some meaningful way. When others benefit, your personal sense of value and worth will rise.

No more 89-cent price tag on us!