Brags, Big Brags and Humblebrags

Humblebrag: (v) – Subtly letting others now about how fantastic your life is while undercutting it with a bit of self-effacing humor or “woe is me” gloss. – Urban Dictionary

Take a look at your Facebook.

Now, take a look at some of your friends’ pages. See what they’re up to.

Look at all the happy. Happiness is everywhere.


After what I heard on this morning’s “Forum” program on KQED, I am now more confused than ever about what constitutes a boast, a brag, or an authentic cheery post.

My class at Academy of Art University attempts to find answers to these questions, and the students are as bewildered as the teacher is.

A couple of years ago, researchers gathered a group of human resources professionals and students to look at the Facebook profiles of 56 users. The panel looked at the profiles for about 10 minutes before grading them with what’s called the Big Five personality traits: Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness and Neuroticism.

If you’d like to briefly drill down, get your handy Big Five Personality Traits PDF here.

The research suggested that a quick scan of someone’s profile can pinpoint what kind of person they are, even though almost all of our walls are covered with success, joy, love, riches and perfect children.

The things we say about ourselves annoys a lot of people, so it seems.  The KQED show guests said that parents posting pictures of their children and bragging about them is one of the most annoying things anyone can do. I’m going to remember that – I am about to inherit a 10 and 11-year-old. You don’t give a rip about how many goals they scored at the soccer match, so I pledge not to tell you.

I’m promoting a book and a kickstarter campaign to fund hardcover publication of it. I have a blog, a book, a Twitter, blahblahblah. It’s entirely possible you think I’m a bragging, self-centered hustler. I’m horrified to imagine that, but it’s absolutely possible. My wall is full of joy and potential and pictures and book covers. How annoying. My life is messy and in disarray in 148 different other ways – the ways you don’t see displayed in a status update.

There is a big gulf that separates pride from bragging, so it seems. Let’s say you just lost 50 pounds.Your proclamation on social media seems completely legit – I know I’m proud of you for finishing what you started. But others are jealous, or overly sensitive. In an analog world, most polite people would mask their annoyance. They behave differently on social networks.

This is not new territory. This subject of social media braggadocio has been hashed and rehashed, but just because there are a million articles and seminars about it doesn’t mean we are any close to the answer – how to be authentic and real without being overly self-loving.

What if my Kickstarter is funded? Do I say “Thanks for supporting ME, everyone!” or thank only those who funded the project offline, or some other kind of seemingly selfless thank you that still ends up being about my book?

Gah! Maybe I’ll just upload a picture of the kids’ 7th place soccer trophy.

John Scott is an instructor, online learning coordinator, and the career services manager for the School of Multimedia Communications, Academy of Art University San Francisco.  His debut book, “Destination:Reinvention” is on sale now in the Amazon bookstore.  Discover your daily reinvention tip at  


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