The poet Tennyson once said that humility is, “the highest virtue, the mother of them all.”
Yet society celebrates over-confidence, entitlement and a perpetual focus on the self.
People are increasingly competitive, attention-seeking, narcissistic, obsessed with their appearance and entitled.
A new study, though, underlines eight ways in which being humble can help us improve our lives (Kesebir, 2014).
The author of the study, psychologist Pelin Kesebir, explains that:
“Humility involves a willingness to accept the self’s limits and its place in the grand scheme of things, accompanied by low levels of self-preoccupation.” (Kesebir, 2014).
Humility — or ‘a quiet ego’ as she calls it — can be surprisingly powerful in a variety of different ways.
1. Soothe the soul
Humble people are better able to cope with anxiety about their mortality.
Instead of erecting self-defenses against death, humble people tend to find it provides a useful perspective on life and how it should be lived.
When it’s not all about you, interestingly, it makes death easier to contemplate.
2. Excellence in leadership
Humble leaders are not only better liked, as you might imagine, but they are also more effective.
Author of a study published in the Academy of Management Journal, Bradley Owens explained (Owens et al., 2011):
“Leaders of all ranks view admitting mistakes, spotlighting follower strengths and modeling teachability as being at the core of humble leadership.
And they view these three behaviors as being powerful predictors of their own as well as the organization’s growth.”
3. Higher self-control
Having high self-control is one key to a successful life.
Oddly, perhaps, studies have found that an obsession with the self can paradoxically lead to lower self-control.
The humble, though, because they place less importance on the self, exhibit higher self-control in many situations.
Perhaps this is partly due to the fact that humble people tend to know their limits.
4. Better work performance
The humble not only make better managers, but they also make better employees.
A study of employees’ supervisors found that being honest and humble was a good predictor of people’s job performance (Megan et al., 2011).
5. Higher grades
Perhaps being a better employee and better manager has its roots in the formative years.
A study of 55 students has found that those who were more humble did better academically (Rowatt et al., 2006).
Being humble, therefore, may make you better in school.
6. Less prejudice
One of the characteristics of being humble is having a low sense of entitlement.
Humble people don’t think they are owed things.
This leads to a less prejudiced view of the world, encouraging them to be tolerant to others and less defensive about their own beliefs.
7. More helpful
Humble people are, on average, more helpful than people who are conceited or egotistical.
In a study by LaBouff et al. (2011), participants who were more humble, were more likely to offer help, and offered more of their time, to those in need.
Unsurprisingly, humble people have also been found to be more generous.
8. Better relationships
Humble people may have better relationships because they accept other people for who they are.
A study by Davis et al. (2012) of groups of people found that humility helped to repair relationships and built stronger bonds between people.
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
Image credit: Lisa Widerberg