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How to Be Proud of Yourself Without Feeling Like a Phony

Feeling proud is good. It's all about how you frame it.

You should feel proud. The thing is, it’s hard to know exactly when and how to feel proud of yourself because pride is a loaded term. At its best, it’s loving and confident. At its worst, it’s stubborn, aggressive, and racist. And even when it’s not ratcheted up to a red-faced boil, it can be foolish.   

“The trap with pride is the egotistical stuff,” notes Michael F. Steger, professor of psychology and director of the Center for Meaning and Purpose at Colorado State University. 

This makes for confusion. You’re left wondering what you can feel good about, what you should share with others, and whether it’s even okay to celebrate the little victories that you find as a spouse, father, friend, and colleague. 

The short answer is yes, you can revel. In fact, you should feel proud of yourself, because feeling proud is necessary as you grind through life. 

“It keeps you motivated and feeling rewarded by what you do,” says Philip Gable, assistant professor of psychology and director of the Social Cognitive Emotive Neuroscience Lab at University of Delaware. 

There’s just a way to go about so it works for you and doesn’t come off as obnoxious to others. This is how to feel proud of yourself in an honest and helpful way. 

Take the Weight Off

Before we talk about how to be proud of yourself, it first helps to define “having pride” versus “feeling proud”. The difference is slight but it matters. The first comes off as a constant state of being with an “I gotta defend it” arrogance, Gable says. The second is a temporary condition of feeling good from what you or someone else has done. 

And the latter option is the goal, and, as Steger asks, “Why wouldn’t you want to tap into that?” But the next question is, “What are your sources of pride?” Often, it’s the low-hanging fruit, he adds, the jersey collections, car tires, and lawn care. They can all take dedication, skill, and sweat, but the usual reaction is “Cool” with a shrug. 

There’s no ultimate, approved list of what’s proud-worthy. The basic characteristic is that it’s something that makes you, and maybe the world, better. It could be yelling less, checking in with friends more, or getting your kids to be polite, but vulnerability is a thread. “There’s something of substance on the line,” Steger says.  

An important hurdle to cross is allowing yourself to feel those victories. The tendency is to dismiss and discredit anything good. One rationale is that others have things harder, which might be true, but you still don’t have complete information to make that judgment. Even so, it doesn’t negate your life and challenges.

“Comparisons never serve you well,” says Inna Khazan, clinical psychologist in Boston, Massachusetts. “You don’t see the tough side of stuff.”

What also hurts is that you know your faults, so no accomplishment seems impressive if you’re pulling it off. But here’s something about change: It’s hard. Try not losing your patience during one day of remote school. That’s a goal. When you’ve laid out a challenge and see any form of progress, that’s cause for a small pat on the back, Steger says. 

And Take a Bigger View

What helps even more is to see pride as multiple feelings. It’s looking at the emotional granularity, Steger explains. There’s appreciation and admiration. Not far from that is gratitude; then there’s joy and even relief that the worst didn’t happen, a.k.a., your kid didn’t let in any easy goals. “It can be a complex experience,” Steger says, and, because of that feeling proud becomes more relatable. 

One fear is allowing it in will make you slack off. But Gable suggests to review each day like this: See the areas to improve, but take in what got you closer to who you want to be – the loving partner, patient dad, understanding friend, supportive boss. Claim the success with, “This is what I did,” followed by, “Tomorrow, I’ll take the next step.” Rather than a never-satisfied attitude, it’s a progressive approach where all wins depends on each other.

The most important part might be to start paying attention, because you can’t appreciate what you don’t see, Steger says. It starts by pausing, if only for a moment, throughout your day and asking, “What am I thinking and feeling?” and “Is there anything right now that’s bringing me joy?” Eventually, you’ll build the habit of looking for positive moments. 

Then, there’s what to do with your good news. It feels uncomfortable to share, almost like self-promotion, but it’s in the delivery. If the subtext is, “I killed it … again,” or, “My kid is so much better than yours,” yeah, people are going to back away. 

Instead, focus on the effort and lace it with humility. It’s saying, “I was scared. I didn’t know if I could do that project, and I feel pretty good with this one.” If it’s about someone else, particularly your kid, you mention, “She worked so hard and felt so proud of spelling all the words right.” You’re sharing the difficulty more than the result, and people can latch onto that. “No one will hold it against you,” Khazan says. 

Plus, “You don’t have to post it on Facebook,” Gable says. You can just feel it. There’s no book for how long, but it’s similar to paying attention. It could just take a few seconds. That slight break from the norm is all the brain needs to notice and learn, “Oh I want more of that,” to keep giving you boosts to push through, Khazan says. “It opens up our perspective. It’s not all bad and negative, but there are also good things.”