So, I was watching an old episode of NCIS: Los Angeles and came across humblebrag. As usual, curiosity got the better of me so I started looking into this phenomenon.

I think this is one of the better TV series that has a perfect mix of humor and drama.

NCIS Los Angeles

In most episodes, the protagonists usually have a light moment before taking on cases.

Here is a brief exchange between the stars of the show.

  • Chris O’Donnell, Agent G. Callen
  • LL Cool J, Agent Sam Hanna
  • Daniela Ruah, Agent Kensi Blye

NCIS: Los Angeles Season 2 Episode 17

G. and Sam were talking a little smack when Kensi comes in.

Kensi. “Oh, it never fails. Oh, it never fails. No matter how haggard you look at the gym, some guy is gonna hit on you.”

G. “What is that? Is that a humblebrag?”

Kensi. “A what?”

Sam. “You feign complaining while patting yourself on the back.”

Kensi. “No, I don’t.”

G. “No, what you’re really saying is even at your worst, people still hit on you.”

As humorous as that scene was, it got me to thinking.

Why do people humblebrag?

Do people even realize that they are humblebragging?

And then something hit me hard, much to my horror.

Am I a humble bragger?

What Is Humblebrag?

It is easy enough to figure out the origin of the word humblebrag. But what most people do not know is the story behind the origin.

It started when American actor and stand-up comedian Matt Braunger tweeted this on 2010.

Reacting to that tweet, actor and comedian Harris Wittels created a new Twitter account.

As the nickname suggested, Harris used this account to retweet posts he sees as humble brags. In spite of reservations early on, he decided against deleting the account.

Humblebrag: The Art of False ModestyBy September 2012, Harris published a book titled Humblebrag: The Art of False Modesty. In his own funny way, he shares his take on self-adulation and brags disguised as humble comments.

In time, the term started to take a life of its own as more people started using #humblebrag on their tweets.

If you did check out the @humblebrag account, you may have noticed that the last retweet was on March 2, 2013. Unfortunately, Harry had been battling against heroin addiction and died two years later.

Formed by combining two words, there are also two components to what a humblebrag is. One is that there is a bragging part, and the other one is the humble or complaint part.

Let us use the title of this post as an example.

The bragging part is that ‘I am humble’, and the humble or complaint part is how ‘sick and tired I am’.

“Humblebragging is making a seemingly modest, self-critical, or casual statement or reference that is meant to draw attention to one’s admirable or impressive qualities or achievements.” – Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Why Do People Humblebrag?

For the life of me, the only reasons I could think of on why people brag are these:

  • Insecurity or Inferiority Complex
  • Hidden Agenda

Humblebragging is bragging without bragging. In other words, it is an attempt at disguising bragging as otherwise. It could be feeling blessed or grateful, thankful, or even complaining.

Complain too much and people get annoyed. Brag too much, the same thing happens too.

So, if bragging and complaining can be annoying, then why do we do it anyway?

1. Insecurity

People who feel inferior have the tendency to overcompensate.

In her post, Susan Krauss Whitbourne Ph.D., shares her take on insecurity and narcissism.

An insecure person is someone who:

  • Tries to make you feel insecure yourself.
  • Needs to showcase his or her accomplishments.
  • drops the “humble brag” far too often.
  • Frequently complains that things aren’t good enough.

2. Hidden Agenda

To be fair, not everyone hides their agenda. While some are transparent, others try to but fail in spectacular fashion.

Social media today is not exclusive to personal posts. In fact, the number of people and brands using it for marketing continues to increase.

There is only one purpose to humblebragging for marketing purposes and that is to entice you.

A good example of this is network marketers and others in sales. Some of them post about how grateful or blessed they are to receive this and that, or travel to here and there.

The intention is clear and that is to entice you so that they could give you their pitch.

Does it work?

Study proves humblebragging is counterproductive.

Harvard Study on Humblebragging

Instead of passing myself off as an expert on the topic of humblebragging, there are experts who did a study.

Humblebragging: A Distinct – And Ineffective – Self-Presentation Strategy

Authors:

Ovul Sezer. Ph.D. candidate in Organizational Behavior at the Harvard Business School. Graduated with honors from Harvard University with an A.B in Applied Mathematics.

Francesca Gino. Professor of business administration in the Negotiation, Organizations & Markets Unit at Harvard Business School.

Michael I. Norton. Harold M. Brierley Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School. Member of Harvard’s Behavioral Insights Group. B.A. in Psychology and English from Williams College. Ph.D. in Psychology from Princeton University.

The results of their study show that:

  • On social media, people see those who humblebrag as less likable, sincere, and competent.
  • 70% of job applicants humblebrag, thinking it is a good strategy to get hired. Unfortunately, doing so results in less likelihood of getting hired.
  • The negative impression is greater for people who humblebrag compared to braggers and complainers.
  • Humblebragging is less effective than bragging in delivering the message. The perception is that braggers are more honest than those who humblebrag.

Self-Promotion by Humblebragging

Whatever the motive or the intention, humblebragging is a form of self-promotion. But it is also true that not everyone realizes that is what they are doing.

So, after learning that this phenomenon is counterproductive and annoying, what does one do?

“Science: Humblebragging doesn’t work,” Derek Thompson writes on How to Brag. “If you want to brag, just brag. Even better, just complain.”

10 COMMENTS

  1. To be honest, I am not good at classifying honest remarks with humble brags. LOL. Maybe because I always give people the benefit of the doubt. I might also be guilty of it since I am unsure. However, there are those obvious “humblebrags”, you are just so sure they just want to brag and look modest.

    For example, people with obviously amazing bodies posting a photo with captions like “need to work out more” or “pardon the extra rice”. Those are personal pet peeves by the way. Haha!

    This is why I agree with your point that sometimes it’s better to “brag” – like if you have a good body, why not celebrate it and be a fitspiration instead. For me, there are brags, though not ideal to do, that can be tolerated instead of obviously fake humble brags.

  2. This is really rampant! I mean, I only have a few words to say because I totally agree. Isn’t it weird that this term is coined from two opposite words? Humble and brag are opposites and I really don’t believe that there’s such a thing. Others may seem like it’s nothing but it is definitely something.

  3. This makes me be careful of the things I am now about to say. I do not want to be mistaken as bragging but at the same time complaining or simply using it as a strategy to conceal hidden agenda. But I always believe that it is better to flaunt what you have than try hard to catch attention just to conceal your excitement over something you love to brag about.

  4. I wonder, though, what if you are just really thankful but shy at the same time? For example, I was able to go to Japan due to blog sponsorship. It wasn’t because of me, though, it’s because of my famous travel blogger friend who recommended me. It may sound like I am humblebragging when I express my gratefulness because if we follow the “definition” of humblebrag, it would mean that I am proud because I am friends with a famous travel blogger that’s why I scored this trip. Should people be annoyed then because I am truly being grateful to her? Besides, it’s true, she is indeed famous and it is her who was invited on that trip, not me, just so happens that she’s no longer here in the Philippines so she passed the opportunity to me.

    What I think about all this really is it’s annoying because people have a tendency to want to be pleased. Like why are we even annoyed by those who are humble bragging? It’s not like they’re killing anyone anyway. Sure they are ridiculous but annoying? Isn’t that a little bit overreacting? I don’t know, it’s like many people nowadays just find ways to be offended for the most trivial of reasons. Can’t we just do what we want so long as we are not hurting other people?

    • Marge,

      The study at Harvard appears to be indisputable, but that is limited to social media. But surely, there must be more to it that what it suggests, right?

      In your case, you were grateful to Trisha and as such, your posts are not humblebrags in my view. BUT, on social networks, it is common to have far more connections we do not personally know. As such, ‘you can’t please everyone’ applies. In other words, those who share a personal connection would know you are sincere and truly grateful, and would even feel happy with you. The ‘strangers’, though, may think otherwise.

      Humblebragging is not wrong, but it depends on the intention.

      As Dale Carnegie so eloquently quoted Dewey in his book, we have the desire to feel important. As such, we share with friends and family the things we did or achieved with a measure of pride and joy. Heck, we do listen to our friends talk about what made them happy.

      But out there in social media, the same message is also viewed by ‘strangers’. Due to the lack of personal connection, it becomes subject to different interpretations.

      Having read the complete Harvard report on humblebrag, it is fair to say that the results reflect how strangers feel when seeing humblebrags. Among true connections, family or friends, that sentiment does not exist.

  5. Oh dear, can I really write down here what I am thinking now? There are a few people shooting to mind, not much to do with the ‘humble’ half of that word creation, but that ‘brag’ … big time! I keep wondering all my life, why some people need to brag … show off. And even more, I wonder about the numerous of their ‘friends’ wanting to get a little hush of that spotlight as well. Like parasites, they glue to the ‘stars’.

    Just one word for that: FAKE … no matter if it’s in real life or virtual world. Either way, bragging or #humblebragging, it all comes down to the same thing, why can’t you just be yourself and tell it as it is, or don’t tell it at all. If you’re proud of yourself, tell it, just as you say. Fishing for compliments? What for? The most remarkable statement in your whole article to me … “sick and tired of people” says it all.

    Anyhow, actually all I wanted to say was: Great read, Mister Lee!!!

  6. This hashtag is interesting. Now I’m beginning to feel conscious of how I sound like to others who are just observing/reading/following me on a two-dimensional screen.

    I have two points on this:

    (1) how you deliver your message is an art and some people have natural talent or skills for it, most are trying to learn the ropes and I control myself not be over-critical on those ‘TH’ although it can be irritating sometimes. And what if I sounded like that, too, when my intention is just to state the facts?! So my 2nd point is,

    (2) What if you just need to toot your own horn coz nobody will? LOL!

    My conclusion, just walk the talk and be consistent and the heck with whatever people think of you. You really can’t please everybody. Anyway, cheers to another enjoyable article from you!

  7. It’s my first time encountering humblebragging. I honestly don’t know if I do that. What I do know is sometimes thanking someone through a blog post and social media is necessary because, at times, it helps in conversion of sales. Well, I don’t really care if people see that negatively. What’s important is that I do my job of successfully promoting.

  8. Oh dear. I know I’ve done this a few times in the past, and if I’m not conscious enough and I’m in a room of people who are power-playing, I tend to do this as well. I agree with your points here, sir. No matter what you tell yourself – that you’re just ‘putting it out there’ or that it ‘needs to be said’ for the purpose of a conversation, it’s still humblebragging up to a point. I admire people who can take a compliment without having to use false humility in response, and I guess in this situation, it’s a similar thing. If you wanna complain, just complain. Love that.

  9. This post made me laugh. I know a lot of people who “humble brags” and I’m not sure if they’re even aware that it’s annoying or maybe they do it on purpose, you know to low key shove in people’s faces how awesome they are. I also think it depends on the person humble bragging and the timing. Maybe in a job interview, this will work, LOL. However, if it’s done regularly then it’s annoying and people will loathe the person.

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