If it’s not on Instagram then it didn’t happen, right? At least that’s what I tell myself as I upload a photo of my latest achievement (my first PR package: some fancy pasta and wine) to my Instagram Stories. I caption the photo with a sarcastic comment about how I’ve finally “made it as an influencer.” The thing is, I want to show off but I also don’t want people to know I’m showing off.
Enter the (not so) humble brag: A seemingly innocent attempt to draw attention to our achievements, usually followed by a self-deprecating remark to reassure our peers that we haven’t let the fame go to our heads. Except, most of the time, we probably have.
For journalists, it could be a byline in a major publication, warranting the excruciating caption, “I did a thing.” For students, it’s an up-close picture of their dissertation with the caption, “who diss?” Note, I have probably done all of these things.
But how does seeing other people’s achievements online really make us feel?
The grass is greener effect
Social media creates the perfect conditions for social comparison, which is basically the process in which we compare ourselves to people who are only sharing an idealised version of their lives online. This can trigger the feeling that something is wrong with our own lives, as we compare our reality to our peers’ heavily filtered social media profiles.
A report in Personality and Individual Differences in 2019 highlighted that this feeling can manifest as shame and envy, as well as harming our psychological well-being. So that explains the sickly feeling in your chest when you see that everyone on Twitter has a blue tick (and a Sally Rooney proof), except you.
According to Mark Silvert, Medical Director of The Blue Tree Clinic, “research shows that for a great deal of people it can be difficult to deal with other people’s success stories, leading to a sense of schadenfreude or jealousy, worsening depression and lower self esteem when we are constantly comparing ourselves to each other.”
If this is how we feel when see others humble-bragging, what motivates us to do it ourselves?
It makes us feel good
Nima Patel, the Founder of Mindful Champs, says that,”When we post on social media, many of us eagerly wait to receive positive feedback, for example in the form of comments or likes, because this acknowledgement make our brains release a chemical called dopamine (more commonly known as the ‘happy hormone.’) Essentially, positive feedback like this makes us happy.”
Nima also explains how social media can get us hooked on positive feedback:
“As humans, we have a fundamental need to feel loved. That’s why if a post performs well, we feel elated, validated and valued. Whereas if it doesn’t, this lack of likes/comments grates on our confidence and self-esteem.”
Before you judge me for being too snippety about people who share their achievements online, I also spoke to author and podcaster, Rebecca Lockwood, who has a far more refreshing view on the matter.
She points out that she still shares some of her achievements over social media because she “love(s) celebrating women who are doing amazing things and it inspires (her) to see other women doing amazing things and achieving so much.”
She continued, “Sometimes I will reach out to someone if I see an achievement that inspires me and thank them for sharing it as it has motivated me. This is why I continue to share some of my achievements.”
Humble or not so humble, it’s important to recognise that bragging on the internet often comes from a place of insecurity rather than arrogance. And ultimately, social media is responsible for perpetuating these feelings of insecurity – not our online besties.
My only suggestion going forward is that we replace the ‘humble brag’ with the ‘outright brag.’ After all, why should we apologise for thriving?