Two studies published in the journal Psychological Reports shed new light on the positive mental health benefits of humility. College students who were more humble benefited from a greater love of life and higher self-efficacy, and older adults benefited from greater well-being.
Humility is a newly popular domain in positive psychology, with research suggesting that being humble supports mental health in numerous ways. The definition of humility, however, has been inconsistent among scientists.
Study authors Lisa T. Ross and Jennifer C. Wright say that humility involves an accurate appraisal of one’s characteristics and a low self-focus. People who are humble recognize their limitations and appreciate the views of others but do not belittle or disparage themselves. While some scholars have argued that humility is situational, Ross and Wright propose that humility is trait-like and remains stable over time.
With this definition in mind, the researchers conducted a pair of studies to explore how humility relates to mental health across two separate samples — 399 US college students and 509 older US adults. Unique from previous studies, the researchers explored how humility relates to love of life, a psychological construct characterized by a pleasurable attachment to life.
The two samples completed personality surveys that included a newer measure of humility, the Dual Dimension Humility Scale. Humility was assessed across five dimensions — other-oriented humility (e.g., “I often place the interests of others over my own interests”), environmental humility (e.g., “We should always try to be in harmony with Mother Nature”), religious humility (e.g., “Ultimately, there is a Supreme Being who gets all of the credit and glory for our individual accomplishments”), cosmic humility (e.g., “I often find myself pondering my smallness in the face of the vastness of the universe”), and valuing humility (e.g., “It’s important to always keep one’s accomplishments in perspective”). The respondents additionally completed various psychological and personality measures.
The findings revealed that humility was related to several positive mental health outcomes among both samples, although the specifics differed. Among college students, all five dimensions of humility were associated with a greater love of life. Greater environmental humility and other-oriented humility were both associated with fewer depressive symptoms. Higher religious, valuing, and other-oriented humility were associated with greater happiness.
While general self-efficacy was not found to correlate with humility among students, the subdomain of social self-efficacy was tied to all of the humility domains except religious humility. “These associations are a good reminder that self-efficacy does not indicate one is a braggart or possesses an unmitigated sense of worthiness,” the study authors note. “In other words, confidence in one’s competence is distinct from self-aggrandizing.”
As far as personality, all domains of humility except religious humility were tied to higher conscientiousness, higher openness, and less neuroticism. Contrary to the researchers’ expectations, these humility domains were also tied to less agreeableness.
Among adults, all dimensions of humility except for religious humility were tied to better well-being. And this time, adults who were more humble overall reported less anxiety. Those who scored lower in valuing humility and environmental humility also reported less anxiety. In terms of personality, being more humble overall was associated with greater openness to experience, conscientiousness, and agreeableness.
Ross and Wright discuss the possibility of strengthening humility with intervention, in order to encourage positive mental health outcomes. A 2014 study by Lavelock and associates found that experimentally increasing humility through workbook assignments led to boosts in humility, patience, and kindness. The current study authors say that future research could explore whether mindfulness practice encourages humility, noting that certain styles of meditation encourage a focus on others. The authors note that the adult and college samples did not complete all of the same measures, and a more direct comparison would benefit from having both samples fill out identical measures.
The study, “Humility, Personality, and Psychological Functioning”, was authored by Lisa T. Ross and Jennifer C. Wright.