Nice Guys Finish First: The Psychological Benefits Of Being Humble

by Dan Scotti

There’s an old saying: “Nice guys finish last.” For the most part, the saying is accurate. A lot of times, nice guys do finish last. Still, this expression often serves more as pillow talk for the arrogant than sound advice all men should follow.

It’s ironic: Everyone seems to love the guy who loves himself the most. At least to the naked eye.

Women will lust for the self-affirming silverback; the media will celebrate the likes of Kanye West, and in the business world, the meek will inherit zilch. That’s just how it is; it’s certainly nothing new.

Ancient Greeks always stressed pride as a source of human greatness. But, hold up; let’s not forget that pride is also the most serious of the seven deadly sins. It’s with good reason that the ancient Greeks also credited pride as a source of human ruin.

Pride, or hubris (in Greek), may lead people to feel as though they’re invincible. With that said, excessive pride can also lead to an individual's demise. This is why we’re urged “not to fly too close to the sun.”

Is it possible that flying further from the sun is a more effective life strategy?

Research done by Pelin Kesebir, Ph.D., of the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, provides reason to believe that being humble will get you further in life, when compared to being just a little too full of yourself, or what we more commonly refer to as being "cocky."

What exactly does it mean to be humble? According to the Association for Psychological Science, humility, or the act of being humble, is characterized by an accurate representation of one’s self, in addition to a team-oriented interpersonal stance.

In a real-life sense, humble people don’t feel pressure to one-up those around them, or instill their personal beliefs. Humble people do good deeds, while others turn a blind eye, regardless of any retribution. In the workplace, humble people will make individual sacrifices for the greater good of the company.

While none of these things will earn you a gold star, or feature page in a tabloid, there are specific psychological benefits to living a humble life:

You foster healthier relationships.

It seems as though in today’s society, people will only come to you when they need something. It’s almost as if people won’t feel the urge to foster a relationship without some end goal for self-improvement. This is not the case about humble people.

Humble people will have healthier relationships because they won’t expect anything from others. Humble people will be themselves, and only expect the same from those around them. Humility allows no room for ulterior motives. Instead, the emphasis is placed on cooperative success and cooperative improvement.

Relationships are, in essence, commitments, and commitments always require more than one person. A great deal of effort is necessary for any good relationship to last, and the humble man will always look to put forth more than he can take away. This is the Social Bonds Hypothesis, as DE Davis et al. explain.

You are a better leader.

For my basketball fans, think of Bill Russell -- and his 11 championship rings -- as an example of humility. Consider Wilt Chamberlain, and his laundry list of individual records, as pride.

While distinguishing who of the two was more successful, and I use that term loosely, is a famous debate -- it’s not difficult to highlight the better leader.

As mentioned before, humble people will always look to approach others on the same plane, even when they hold a position of authority. Kesebir cites Bradley Owens in her research, when investigating the rudimentary aspects of “humble leadership.”

Through admission of their mistakes, acknowledgement of the strengths of others and improvement of those around them, humble leaders are better suited to model their followers to generate successful results.

If followers deem their leader to be a narcissistic one with self-centered motives, they will work far less hard towards achieving those goals, being that they are not for the greater good of the enterprise.

You are more kind.

According to Kesebir, there is a strong correlation between humility and a lowered sense of entitlement. With a high sense of entitlement, comes a feeling of superiority – and feelings of superiority will, ultimately, breed hatred.

Humble people are innately more kind, as they will never hold their values on a higher plane than others. Humility is predicated on perspectives of universal gain over self-achievement.

In an experiment done by LaBouff et al., humility held the strongest correlation with self-reported helpfulness, followed by extraversion and conscientiousness. Humility also correlated positively with agreeableness.

These statistics support the notion that humble people will engage in far less conflict with others, as they’re naturally less argumentative and more inclined to help those around them.

You display better self-control.

People lacking humility will often appear as obsessed with themselves. When one becomes so fixated on his or her own benefit, the consequences of certain behaviors are outweighed by their short-term effect.

Take Alex Rodriguez, for example. Rodriguez was so fixated with himself and his legacy that he resorted to cheating as a means to success. Often, distorted impressions of one’s self, or one's goals, will lead to immoral behaviors.

Humble people will be better-suited to understand limits -- whether it be to their own or a specific situation’s benefit. With more focus on the context of a situation than their personal pleasure, humble people will understand that everything has its own time and place, in moderation.

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