Nobody likes a show-off.
Let’s face it – the explosion in blogging and social networking has created a generation that’s used to shameless self-promotion, and the youth of today is so obsessed with likes and shares that a lack of interaction on Instagram can lead to mental health issues.
Learning to act with humility, then, helps to reduce the negative impact of social networking sites while providing peace of mind and preventing your ego from running away with itself. After all, there’s more to life than likes and shares, and a lack of humility could actually be doing more harm than good.
Alice in Wonderland Author Lewis Carroll famously said, “True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.” The art of being humble, then, is about becoming a more well-rounded individual – and not about putting yourself down or blindly trying to please other people.
Still, in a society that seems to celebrate the cocky and the over-confident, it can be difficult to act with true humility – especially when we’re constantly barraged with advertisements and reality shows that tell us how we’re supposed to look, act and think. Many people would go so far as to ask, “Why bother?”
The Psychology of Humility
The idea of being humble is nothing new. However, it’s only recently that psychologists have started to carry out research into exactly how humility affects our brains. One key study was carried out by psychologist Pelin Kesebir, who found eight psychological benefits to humility (Kesebir, 2014).
In her study, Kesebir described humility as “a quiet ego” and explained that it “involves a willingness to accept the self’s limits and its place in the grand scheme of things.” Put simply, a humble person has a calm sense of self-mastery – they know what they’re good at and what they’re bad at, and they don’t seek praise or confirmation from their peers because they neither want nor need it.
This sense of self-mastery is one of the major benefits of adopting humility. Studies have shown that humbler people have a higher level of self-control, a key personally trait that’s shared by many of society’s most successful people. Part of the reason for this is that humbler people know their limits. They’re less likely to drive rashly, drink heavily or to take up other bad habits, such as smoking, that place an emphasis on immediate gratification.
On a similar note, humility also helps us to deal with our own mortality. Everyone dies eventually, and there’s not much that we can do about it. All we can do is come to terms with it, and humbler people find it easier to accept death and to use their own inevitable demise to get a little perspective on their lives and how they live them.
Humility in Life
Let’s not dwell on mortality and focus instead on how humility can help people to live their lives. One study (Davis et al., 2012) found that humbler people are able to develop stronger interpersonal relationships because they accept others for who they are instead of trying to classify them according to their internal belief system. In fact, humility doesn’t just help you to build better relationships with your friends and family – it can also help to repair rifts after disagreements. Perhaps that’s because humbler people are more likely to say, “I’m sorry.”
This acceptance also means that humble people tend to be less prejudiced. After all, they have a lower sense of entitlement and they’re less likely to impose their own beliefs onto others. The truly humble person knows that everybody is equal, regardless of their skin color, their political affiliation or their religious beliefs.
A further psychological study into humility (LaBouff et al., 2011) found that humbler participants were more likely to offer their help – as well as their time and their money – to people who needed it. That’s why certain professions – such as nursing – tend to attract a higher proportion of humble workers. Nurses aren’t in it for the glory – they know that helping other people is reward enough. Compare a nurse to a professional sportsperson and ask yourself which is more likely to help an old lady cross the street – and who’s more likely to show off and celebrate when they achieve something.
Humility at Work
As we’ve already seen from the nurses, humility can be a valuable trait in the workplace, although it depends upon what you do for a living. But as a general rule, studies – like those by Bradley Owens (Owens et al., 2011) and Megan K. Johnson (Johnson et al., 2011) – show that humbler people make the best employees.
This stems all the way back to childhood. One study of 55 students (Rowatt et al., 2006) found that those who were humble tended to score better academically, perhaps because they were more inclined to buckle down and get the work done instead of being the class clown to attract attention. Jessica Groves from SuperiorPapers offers another theory, suggesting that humbler students are more likely to write objectively – and therefore to match the criteria of examining boards.
When it comes to the workplace, honesty and humility are two of the key traits that virtually every hiring manager will look out for, and this is backed up by a survey which found that they’re an effective indicator of overall performance. Better still, if humble employees rise up the ranks and find themselves in a managerial position, they’ll be naturally more effective at the job they do.
We’re not in the 1980s anymore, and leadership is no longer about competition and aggression. Instead, the most effective leaders demonstrate humility and empathy, both of which help to increase team loyalty and productivity. Researcher Bradley Owens added that “admitting mistakes, spotlighting follower strengths and modelling teachability” are all within the realm of the humble, and it’s easy to see why they’d be useful character traits in business. After all, if you were on a plane and the pilot made a mistake, would you prefer for them to try to cover it up or would you rather that they admitted their mistake and sought help to correct it?
As we’ve seen, humility can affect all aspects of our life, from how we live and work to how we think and how we interact with people. It has huge mental and physical health benefits if we’ll only accept it as a way of life, and it can also help us to make sense of the world around us.
In the end, we’re all just specks of dust on a rock that’s flying through space and orbiting one of around 400 billion stars in the Milky Way alone. If that doesn’t make you feel humble, nothing will.