What gives Serbia’s seven million people the highest self-esteem in the world? I was curious to find out the answer after reading a scientific study that compared the self-esteem of almost 17,000 people from 53 countries around the world and ranked Serbia #1.

I was particularly surprised because Serbia isn’t a country I often hear about in America. While many are self-proclaimed Francophiles and Italian obsessed, Serbia is a country that doesn’t get much word of mouth. 

Thankfully, to help me in my quest to learn the secrets of Serbia, Historian Jelena Zivkovic agreed to share her point of view. Jelena grew up in Belgrade, the capital city of ex Yugoslavia. “It was a very happy childhood,” Jelena shares. “A safe place during the 1980s and the Cold War. Everybody was playing freely in the streets, less cars, less stress, an almost ideal childhood.” 

With parents who encouraged talk on literature and film, Jelena grew up appreciating culture. When she fell into teaching by accident, Jelena found her passion telling stories and passing on knowledge. Here Jelena found even greater confidence. I have become way more confident in everyday life because of my students and the experience of being a teacher,” Jelena says. “I love being able to inspire my students.”

Self-Esteem Factor: A Sense of Belonging

What’s uniquely Serbian about the way Jelena lives her life? The answer would have to be her social life. “Every Serb has many friends so our social life is quite active,” Jelena notes. “Every night is someone’s birthday, slava, premiere, etc.”

Slava is the Serbian Orthodox tradition of celebrating a family’s patron saint. According to Jelena, slava season begins in October and peaks on December 19 with the celebration of St. Nicholas. In winter, it’s not unusual to celebrate slava several times a week with different friends and family members. 

“My generation is big on birthdays, moving-in parties (new flat) or leaving the country – special parties,” Jelena adds. “Almost everyone celebrates birthday by inviting friends and family over or organizing the birthday at some restaurant, bar or club.” Jelena’s weekly plans likely include meeting friends several times a week at a bar, exhibition, or film festival with Sunday’s reserved for family.

Jelena believes that closeness and support from friends and family are part of what gives her healthy self-esteem. “It’s the support we get from parents, close cousins, distant cousins, neighbours, friends,” She says. “You’re never left alone.”


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Self-Esteem Factor: Mental Toughness

A look back in time gives insight into this country’s mental toughness. “Through history lessons in school you learn that you belong to the nation who survives wars, invasions, and bombings,” Jelena explains. “That combination gives us high self-esteem.”

Jelena says she considers herself mentally tough because she was not afraid of loss amongst these circumstances. “Being through so much, not living in an economically and politically stable country, you need to find your way,” Jelena says. “The best way is to get the best possible education which nobody can take away. This is one of the reasons why Serbs abroad are super successful. All my friends speak a few languages fluently.” 

Not only does this history of survival add to their mental toughness, it also adds to their desire to live in the moment. “We have been bombed so many times that we’ve learned not to think in materialistic ways as you can lose everything tomorrow,” Jelena says. “Others can learn to live life more fully and in the moment from this way of living.”

Self-Esteem Factor: Lack of Comparison

With the comparison problem that seems to have infected all Instagrammers, I was curious if people in this country of high self-esteem suffered the same struggles. “I copy my mother,” Jelena shares. “She never compares herself to other women.”

Could this self-esteem problem have skipped over Serbia? Funny enough, Jelena finds her self-esteem soaring even further in America. “Americans do know how to appreciate European women,” Jelena notes. “When I travel to the USA my self-esteem increases.”

Jelena’s advice to women around the world is to invest time in yourself, your interests. After all, she says, “It’s a waste of time to try to be somebody else.” 

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Big thank you to Jelena! If you want to further support her work sharing the fascinating history of Belgrade, follow her on Instagram. Have a thought on self-esteem? Share your comment below or send me a message. I would love to hear your point of view. Incredible things will happen when we come together as women to lift and empower each other. Let’s start here!