Despite a growing body of research about the benefits of being humble, humility is not a new topic. Augustine wrote that "unless humility precede...every good action we perform...any good work is...wholly wrested from our hand by pride."
Recent empirical studies, though, offer us a clearer sense of what humility exactly entails and how it serves our physical and mental health.
Here are the key components of humility as cited in the social science literature (developed by Tangney, 2000):
1) an accurate assessment of one's abilities and accomplishments
2) the ability to acknowledge one's mistakes and limitations
3) openness to new ideas, contradictory information, and advice
4) keeping one's abilities and accomplishments in perspective
5) maintaining a low self-focus
6) valuing things in life that go beyond the self
A nationwide survey of 3010 people found that humility may help adults cope better with stress (Krause et al, 2016). Specifically, humility was found to offset the effects of certain stressful life events including illness of a family member, interpersonal problems with family, and death of a close friend. Those with higher levels of humility were found to have lower levels of depression and anxiety. Humility was also associated with higher levels of happiness and life satisfaction.
Basically, this study suggests that the more humble you are, the less negative effects certain types of stress will have on you.
Why does humility play such a stress-buffering role?
Here are five theories the survey researchers propose as to why being humble helps people cope better with unwanted events in their lives:
1) Humble people tend to ask for and accept support more readily from others during difficult times.
2) In the midst of adversity, humble people focus on things of value beyond themselves, and find growth in the face of their current circumstances.
3) Humble people are more adept at repairing damaged relationships through their willingness to admit wrongdoing.
4). Humble people tend to be more secure and accepting of their identities, and thus more resilient to ego-threatening events.
5). Humble people are more likely to forgive themselves over time. Self-forgiveness is associated with better physical and emotional health.
So, we don't need a moralistic fear of pride to lead us to humility. We don't need to be humble to "tame every demonic power" as St. Maximos the Confessor declared in 630-645 C.E.
Rather, we simply need to acknowledge the significant association between our level of humility and our well-being.