Americans are hooked on self-esteem, as evidenced by the enduring popularity of the “Chicken Soup for the Soul” series. Since the first book’s debut in 1993, the 100-plus books in the series have sold more than 100 million copies to an international audience of mostly female fans.

Kim Weiss, director of public relations at “Chicken Soup” publisher HCI, speculates that the books have succeeded because of their ability to make people feel good about themselves. “That’s what self-esteem is...

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