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The concept of the 'ideal self' and its effect on happiness

There are essentially three components of self-concept:

Ideal self- the way a person wants to be

Real self- the way a person sees himself

Public self- the way a person thinks others see him

In some situations, the real self and the public self might overlap i.e. the way you see yourself might be the same as the way you think others see you. However, as the title suggests, our main focus in this post will be on the ‘ideal self’.

All of us are constantly trying to reach an ‘ideal self’, the best that we can be. From time to time, we picture ourselves as this ‘ideal self’ who has achieved all his goals, is living the kind of life that he always wanted to live and is happy, full of joy.


How do we form this ideal self?

The quick answer is goals. The kind of goals in life that you currently have will largely determine your ‘ideal self’. Your ‘ideal self’ is the person who has achieved all these goals. Since our goals change from time to time as we go through our lives, our 'ideal self' also changes accordingly. 

When you were a kid and watched superhero cartoons, maybe your ideal self was Superman or Batman or Captain America. You even bought their costumes because wearing them allowed you, in a way, to embody your ‘ideal self’. And perhaps you were disappointed and jolted back to reality when you realized that wearing a Superman costume couldn't make you fly!

superman and batman

If you think grown-ups don’t do such things you're totally mistaken. Why do you think some people love wearing similar clothes, keeping similar hairstyles or even talking and walking the same way as their favourite celebrities? They are not just 'good fans’ as they might repeatedly emphasize, they actually see those celebrities as their 'ideal selves' and are, in fact, trying to embody them!

The celebrities they're copying have the personality they want. Next time someone says that he bought a shirt because he saw Brad Pitt wearing it then know that Brad Pitt largely comprises of his ideal self. By wearing that shirt, he unconsciously thinks that he's Brad Pitt and he moves closer to his ideal self. 

Next time you see a guy wearing an Arsenal football jersey, you can be sure that his ideal self plays for Arsenal. Or if you see someone uploading a picture of his with a famous cricketer, that's probably the closest he could possibly get to embodying his ideal self!

We try to attain goals by picturing an ideal-self in our mind. Now, this ideal self may be a person who we admire the most and look up to the most as our role model or it may be just a fictional character we create, an amalgamation of all the people that we admire in our life or see as our role models.


Our core ideal self

Even though the ideal self that we chase changes from time to time, still there are aspects of it that can remain constant. Ideal self is the result of goals and goals arise from needs. Some needs are temporary and some are constant. The aspect of our ideal self that is designed to satisfy our core needs is our core ideal self.

Say a guy has core need of wanting to appear powerful because he was physically the smallest and weakest among his siblings. In childhood his heroes were Batman and Superman. When he was a teen he enjoyed watching wrestling on TV and now his ideal selves were The Rock and The Undertaker. Now in his early 20's as a history student, he admires dictators and despots, even the likes of Hitler and Stalin.

As you can see, apparently he has chased different ideal selves throughout his life but they all had one thing in common- they were powerful. So we can say that being a 'powerful' person was his core ideal self that satisfied his core need of wanting to be powerful.

Ideal self and happiness

As a general rule, the closer we are to our ideal self, the happier we'll be. But keep in mind that no one can ever reach this ideal self because as long as we're alive we'll always be seeking new things, new goals and new ideal selves to embody. Life is a never-ending exploration.

If we are nowhere close to our ideal self, it rebukes us and calls us to itself. We feel disappointed and unhappy with our present condition. And that's a good thing because it motivates us to move closer to our 'ideal self' and experience happiness.

If you're unhappy now it may be that you're far, far away from the ideal self of you that you had pictured in your mind. When you begin to take steps towards embodying that mental image of yours, whatever it may be. happiness is bound to come knocking at your door.


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