We all at least occasionally brag about ourselves or the people close to us. It’s a practice rooted in our need for attention and affirmation. In fact, two Harvard neuroscientists published a paper that shows that talking about ourselves gives us the same kind of pleasure that we get from sex or food. With that said, why do we get annoyed or upset when others brag when we ourselves universally do it? Is there any acceptable way to brag?
Bragging often backfires. While we do it with the intent of having others view us favorably, the truth is that bragging often does the opposite—it can make them resent us. It’s another ironic example of the contradiction in our culture in which we’re expected to value individualism and modesty at the same time.
There are different ways to brag. You can directly draw attention to your qualities or accomplishments, bring them up with a disclaimer (apophasis), or repeat what others have said. You can do it in minute ways by being a humblebrag—the kind of person who tries to downplay outright bragging with fake humility or self-deprecating humor. You can be sarcastic about it (in other words, pretend that you’re saying it without meaning it when, in actuality, you really do want others to know).
Think of bragging as directing a spotlight toward your face. There’s a way to do it that’s straightforward—that acknowledges what it’s doing and, on top of that, does it tactfully. There’s also a way to do it without shrouding everyone around you in darkness; you can still stand out even when everyone is illuminated.
After all, as much as people despise habitual braggarts, people also look for ways to be happy for the people close to them. (At least, the people worth keeping in touch with will do this.) It’s entirely possible to put a bragging comment in perspective with specific details. It’s not abrasive to hear another person say: “I’ve been so motivated to keep on cooking. One of my mom’s friends, a famous chef, tasted one of my recipes and said I have a really advanced sense of taste. It gave me a boost of validation, you know?” On the other hand, it’s grating to hear: “I think I’m gonna be a really good cook. This really famous chef told me so.”
Anyway, what are moments in your life when you’ve bragged? How do you feel about bragging, and when do you think it’s acceptable?