It might seem strange to think that people would study humility, but positive psychology (the branch of psychology that studies well-being) is interested in fostering virtue as an important part of leading
a happy and healthy life. This is one of the first studies, however, looking at what, exactly humility is and how it benefits us.
Hardy’s analysis found two clusters of traits that people use to explain humility. Traits in the first cluster come from the social realm: Sincere, honest, unselfish, thoughtful, mature, etc. The second and more unique cluster surrounds the concept of learning: curious, bright, logical and aware.
Samuelson says the two clusters of humble traits — the social and intellectual — often come as a package deal for people who are “intellectually humble.” Because they love learning, they spend time learning from other people.
“In many ways, this is the defining feature of intellectual humility and what makes it distinct from general humility,” said Samuelson, who formerly served as a Lutheran pastor prior to his academic career.
The new study appears in The Journal of Positive Psychology.
This study dovetails with my own understanding of humility. Humility is not the putative “virtue” of running yourself down or refusing to rejoice in the gifts you have been given. Pride is defined as the vice that says, “I will NOT serve.” Pride is an obsession with defining one’s own path to fulfillment, hoarding one’s gifts and refusing to be open to learning from the experience of others. Humility, then, is the awareness that abundance can only be pursued by cooperating with others, sharing what one has with others, and learning from the experience of others.
If you want to be humble, the key is an openness to learn from others, to see the truth, goodness and beauty in the things they find true, good, and beautiful, and to be willing to give of oneself for the benefit of others.