When it’s better to brag

Have you ever really wanted to tell someone good news, but didn’t want to make it seem like you were bragging about it? Most of us have been there, and that desire to seem humble while telling others about the great things in our life eventually gave birth to the humblebrag.

As Quartz’s Corinne Purtill describes, I humblebrag when, for example, “I wanted you to notice my fit physique, successful partner, and gifted children, but I didn’t want to look like an egotistical monster, so I wrapped my good news up in complaints and false humility instead.” She goes on to describe how “we are living in a golden age of the humblebrag . . . It’s a time in which people routinely describe the experience of receiving career—and ego—elevating rewards as ‘humbling’.”

It would seem, however, that we aren’t being quite as sneaky as we thought. A recent study from Harvard Business School found that people actually preferred it when others complained or simply bragged about the good things in their lives than when they tried to couch the news in false humility. Overall, humblebraggers came off as less competent and likeable than others, even when the complainers and braggers weren’t exactly acting great themselves.

The reason is that people appreciate sincerity, even when it may not come in an overly palatable way. Studies have found they even value it above warmth and competence. And really, that shouldn’t come as a surprise. We live in a world filled with opportunities to edit every facet of our lives before letting others see it. Whether it’s a Facebook post you’ve revised eighteen times before clicking enter or a picture that you photoshopped to make sure every detail was at its best, real glimpses into each other’s lives are increasingly rare these days. All that fakeness has left us with a greater appreciation for the times when we feel like we’ve seen a person’s true self, even if it’s not his or her best qualities.

As Christians, we are called to help other fallen people come to know the God who loves them in spite of their flaws. So we can’t afford to get caught up in the desire to make it look like our lives are something they’re not. No one is perfect this side of heaven, but Scripture is clear that we should try to be (Matthew 5:48). But it’s not an accident that the very next verse warns about the dangers of practicing our righteousness in front of others—essentially putting on a show to make it seem like we’re better than we actually are (Matthew 6:1).

God longs to help us become more like him, but he can’t do that if we’re afraid to be honest with ourselves or others about who we really are. The world doesn’t need more Pharisees, thanking God for how well they can hide their faults. It needs more tax collectors, beating their chests and begging God to help them become the people he created them to be (Luke 18:9–14). Which will you be today?