Why This Is the Best Sin of the 7 Deadly Sins
No, not lust. Calm down. This is not that kind of website.
I’m talking about pride. When you think about the deadly sins, pride’s actually kinda confusing. Few ethical people are running around advocating greed. Wrath isn’t going to make you a lot of friends. And, as the saying goes, envy is the one deadly sin that’s no fun at all.
But we all think it’s okay to be proud of your family, proud of your country, proud of your religion and proud of yourself. We encourage it. Ever wished someone “took more pride in their work”? Of course you have.
Without some amount of pride there’s a void in our lives. An emptiness. And yet we also agree that being prideful is bad. Nobody likes jerks, narcissists or hubris. (In fact, Dante said that pride was the deadliest of the deadly sins.)
And the confusion’s right there in the dictionary. Merriam-Webster has two definitions for pride. And they’re contradictory.
So what gives? When you look at the psychological research, it turns out that pride does come in two flavors. One can give you the motivation and grit to become the best version of yourself. Far from being a deadly sin, it makes you kinder and more compassionate. People who possess this kind of pride are happy, healthy, popular and prestigious.
And then there’s the other kind. It leads you to cheat, lie and take advantage of others. It’s marked by aggression, manipulation and dominance.
In professor Jessica Tracy’s book Take Pride: Why the Deadliest Sin Holds the Secret to Human Success she explains some fascinating new research about how pride has enormous power to greatly improve — or irrevocably harm — your life.
You’re gonna be proud of something, that’s for sure. So it’s pretty important we learn how to do it the right way.
Alright, strap in. We’re gonna make some sense of this pride thing…
What The Heck Is Pride Anyway?
Studies show that pride is a universal signal of status. They’ve done tests all around the world (even in isolated cultures) and people always recognize the expression of pride at a rate well above what would be predicted by random chance.
In fact, when congenitally blind athletes win a competition, they make that recognizable posture: chest expanded, shoulders back, a broad smile. Since there’s no way they could have seen someone else do this, it would seem pride is hard-wired into us.
When you show pride, other people see you as higher status. How powerful is the signal pride sends to others? Crazy powerful. When one job candidate shows pride and the other shows shame, the one who is beaming gets the job — even if they have a much weaker résumé.
Pretty awesome, huh? Pride sounds like a good thing to have. But here’s where all the ethical confusion comes from…
There are two kinds of pride: “Authentic Pride” and “Hubristic Pride.” Both make you seem higher status and get you respect but they come from very different places and have very different side effects.
Authentic pride is when you are pleased with what you’ve achieved through hard work. Hubristic pride is when you feel you’re fundamentally better than everyone else.
Obviously, hubristic pride doesn’t win you any popularity contests. People will respect you, but that doesn’t mean they like you. Not exactly a quality you would want to develop in yourself, hence the numero uno spot on that infamous deadly sin listicle.
But authentic pride is something we should all be working our best to build. What happens when you derive your esteem from your efforts instead of a narcissistic belief in your innate superiority? Lots of really good stuff, bubba.
Authentic pride motivates you. People who feel it literally work twice as hard.
Hubristic pride doesn’t have the same effect. It will make you work harder on some tasks — ones that immediately impress other people.
Authentic pride increases self-control. Hubristic pride makes you more impulsive and less conscientious.
And far from being deadly or being a sin, authentic pride makes you a better person. Those who felt it were more generous and empathetic. People made to feel hubristic pride, on the other hand, became more selfish.
(To learn the 7-step morning ritual that will keep you happy all day, click here.)
Okay, the benefits are obvious. So how do you get more authentic pride in your life — and dodge the hubristic pride bullet?
1) Ask, “What Kind Of Person Do I Want To Be?”
We all spend a lot of time thinking about what we want. Yachts made of platinum and decade long vacations. But who do you want to be? What character traits would make you proud of yourself? What’s the best version of you?
Focusing on those intrinsic factors produces grit and success. Hubristic pride’s desire to impress doesn’t deliver the same results.
Researchers looked at over 10,000 West Point cadets. Those that said they only came to the school for intrinsic reasons — like they wanted to become a good leader — were more likely to graduate, got promoted earlier and were more successful a decade later. Those concerned with extrinsic reasons — like how impressive it would be to say they graduated from West Point — were less likely to graduate or become officers.
We all want to be happy and we all too often think that comes from getting things, not who we are and how we behave. And not only does trying to become your best self make you more successful — research also shows it makes you happier.
(To learn the 4 rituals that neuroscience says will make you happy, click here.)
So you have an idea of the best version of you. Now what the heck do you do with it?
2) Regularly Remind Yourself
Once you specify the qualities you’d like to have and the character traits you’d like to exhibit, you’re gonna need reminders because your context exerts enormous influence on your behavior, whether you realize it or not. When you’re tempted to be bad, you need a reminder to be good.
Work by Nicholas Christakis at Yale shows that when we surround ourselves with the kind of people we want to be, we’re more likely to become like those people.
And the research shows reminders really do have positive effects on your behavior. That’s what leads to improvement and authentic pride in yourself.
How many religions offer a weekend crash course and then you’re a good person for life? None that I can think of. Most have regular get-togethers at a place of worship. And you’re supposed to pray or meditate frequently. Guess what those are? Reminders.
(To learn the 6 rituals that ancient wisdom says will make you happy, click here.)
Now what’s to stop you from having a good vision of who you want to be, reminding yourself of who you want to be, and then being filled with hubristic pride over how much better you are than everyone else?
3) Focus On Effort, Not Natural Ability
When you credit your achievements to effort, you know others can get there too. You’re not innately better. And that makes you more likely to be compassionate, helpful and filled with authentic pride.
(To learn how to stop being lazy and get more done, click here.)
Okay, we’ve learned a lot about the good and bad forms of pride. Let’s round it up and learn what to do if you don’t have much to be proud of right now…
Here’s how to make sure that the deadly sin of pride isn’t deadly, isn’t sin-ly, and authentically helps you be the best you:
- Ask, “Who do I want to be?”: Not “What do I want?” Or “What will impress other people?” What qualities would you want others to praise at your eulogy?
- Regularly Remind Yourself: Post-it notes, inspirational pictures, whatever will keep you on track to becoming the best you.
- Focus on effort, not ability: You weren’t born with magic powers. But you can get magic results from hard work. And that’s something to be proud of.
Pride isn’t something to be avoided. It’s just got to be the right kind.
Maybe you don’t have a lot you’re proud of right now. That’s okay. As the saying goes, “Anyone can be cool, but awesome takes practice.” Becoming the best you is a process. No, it’s not as pleasurable in the moment as bragging or showing off but it’s an investment in future-you that will pay off — and it won’t make you a jerk in the process.
The Stoic philosopher Epictetus once said, “No great thing is created suddenly.”
And that great thing can be you.