This is a case of research proving what most people already know: Talking about ourselves, as a raft of studies have shown, feels pretty damn good. Several have found that sharing good news in person can boost self-esteem and decrease loneliness; one study even found evidence that this kind of “self-disclosure” lights up neural pathways associated with the brain’s reward system.
What feels great for you, though, might not be so much fun for whoever’s listening. A 2015 study, for instance, found that people tend to overestimate the extent to which others will feel happy for them when they share good news, and underestimate the extent to which they’ll feel annoyed. Irene Scopelliti, who authored this study, touched on this phenomenon in a recent TedX Talk on the psychology of bragging: People often brag with good intentions, and believe others may be experiencing the same delight at their news, she said — but “their beliefs often don’t match what their audiences’ experience in reality, resulting in what in our studies we call an ‘emotional miscalibration.’”
And that’s particularly true, she added, when the bragging happens online.
In part, it’s because the medium allows more room for self-promotion than the typical face-to-face interaction. “We were brought up to be humble,” says Lisa Brateman, a psychotherapist and relationship specialist. “And the problem with technology is that it teaches you to be the exact opposite.” Typing into the void, it’s also easier to misread your audience, annoying them in the best-case scenario and unknowingly inflicting damage on both professional and personal relationships in the worst-.
That’s not to say that a little digital bluster is inherently a terrible thing. “Social media is a powerful tool that, when used properly, can enhance your business or career,” says Peggy Klaus, executive coach and author of Brag!: How to Toot Your Own Horn Without Blowing It. “It provides a great way to get your brand out, and keeps you connected to those in your industry and beyond.” Highlighting successes and strokes of luck can land you a date or a paying gig, or give a long-ago friend an opportunity to reconnect. Here’s how to gloat online in a way that doesn’t turn people off — and maybe even make them happy for you.
No one’s saying you can’t share that triumphant photo of your Machu Picchu climb, but it couldn’t hurt to examine your intentions before posting. Is it because you’re proud of what you’ve accomplished, or because you want an ex to know how cool your life is now? Odds are, an accomplishment will be better received if you appear to be showing off out of genuine excitement, and not to make a point or elicit a particular response.
Furthermore, good braggers are strategic in how often they do it: If they usually share silly BuzzFeed quiz results with friends and suddenly post a selfie with Brad Pitt in line at Starbucks, they know it’ll go over better than it would coming from the jet-setter who posts a steady stream of Champagne-popping pics from a stretch limo.
“While it’s fine to sprinkle brag bites in your posts, make sure you have a good mix of content that doesn’t just focus on you,” Klaus says. “As often as possible, try to include additional useful content, tips and links to articles that don’t relate specifically to your posts.”
Experts also suggest fighting the urge to drop the dreaded humblebrag. “If you did something and you are proud of it, own it,” Klaus said. “Thinly veiling your brag with false humility will immediately turn off your audience.” And it goes without saying, but don’t boast about things you wouldn’t want your boss, colleagues, or family to know.
If you’re going to post something highlighting exclusive access (like backstage passes to a Beyoncé concert or flying first class), it helps to show gratitude and give credit when appropriate. Expressing thanks for an exciting opportunity will go a long way in dispelling the notion that you’re kind of a jerk.
“If there’s no humility in there, you’re going to cause the reaction that you don’t want, which is people not rooting for you,” Brateman said. Explaining how you found yourself in the scenario you’re highlighting — especially if it involves some hard work on your part — makes it so that people will be more likely to feel you deserve your success (and less likely to hide you from their newsfeed). You don’t need to do a full-on Oscars speech every time you, say, post a shot of a fancy dinner out, but it’s good practice to acknowledge anyone who’s helped facilitate your happy circumstance.
You can also use other people to deflect a little bit — for example, instead of posting, “I just got into the med school of my dreams!” say, “My mom told me she’s very proud of me for getting into med school. I’m not crying, you guys, you’re crying.”
“When you quote somebody else it takes away a little bit of that direct, in-your-face bragging,” Brateman said. “It softens it a little bit.” You’re still letting your network know your good news, but by framing the information through someone else’s words, it’ll make it easier for everyone else to join in to cheer you on.
If you really want to ensure that your brag will be met with goodwill, though, you should tweak your settings to share it only with people you already know will appreciate it. The best braggers know to target their boasts to people who who have a vested interest in their goals, like funneling exercise updates to a fitness accountability group or posting creative successes in an author support forum, etc. That way, your audience will be more likely to swoop in with hearty support.
No matter who sees your post, though, you should strive to make it fun to read. “No one wants to read a boring list of your accomplishments,” Klaus said. “You know, the ones with laundry lists of ‘I’ statements — e.g., ‘I was just promoted, I was given a bonus larger than I expected, I just bought myself a really expensive car, blah blah blah.’) This is bad bragging.” She suggests using jokes, stories, and pictures to make your braggy posts more captivating and dynamic. If you can get your followers laughing, commenting, or sharing, they’ll be more likely to overlook your social-media sins. (For some inspiration, 50 Cent is a master at this.)
And lastly, the best way to defuse animosity against a braggy post is to make it genuinely useful. You could use social media to broadcast the fact that you’re great, or you could use it to inspire and inform by sharing the lessons you learned from accomplishing your goal. Boasting online is pretty common, but being nice on the internet is entirely too rare — if you’re going to pull off the first, a dose of the second couldn’t hurt.