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


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.”