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Redefining Pride: Marking Large Milestones and Savoring Positive Emotion

We can use pride as a skillful emotion in our pursuit of future goals

As graduation ceremonies commence, mortarboards are thrown, and tearful exhortations to seize the day pronounced, let us examine the process of graduation as a joyful exercise in authentic pride. Amidst the sea of tassel-shifting and nostalgic well-wishing, commencement weekends induce a whirlwind of mixed emotions for students. The moment serves to recognize a key milestone and transition into a greater landscape, and we should celebrate and savor it as a way of recognizing effort through the careful practice of pride.

The word “pride” often has a negative connotation, typically due to a lack of understanding the difference between pride and its sub-optimal cousin, arrogance. When we hear the word pride, we tend to think of someone with a big ego. This type of pride, known as hubristic pride, is associated with ego-based social comparison and self-aggrandizing thoughts. Studies link hubristic pride to a strong sense of entitlement, stronger feelings of impatience, and uncontrollable attributions to a situation. In contrast, authentic pride is associated with high feelings of self-worth based on achievement and effort, as well as controllable attributions to a situation. How can we tell the difference between authentic pride and hubristic pride? The difference lies in how we attribute our successes – do they stem from effort and factors that we control, or are they attributed to factors external to our jurisdiction? For instance, consider a person who has a large group of friends. Someone high in hubristic pride might attribute this to their popularity (external attribution out of their control), while a person with authentic pride might attribute this to working hard at maintaining meaningful relationships (internal attribution in their control).

Authentic pride in one’s abilities and personal achievements, by contract, actually predicts a highly beneficial set of personality traits. It correlates handsomely with extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, emotional stability, and openness to experience. Furthermore, authentic pride correlates with key prosocial emotions such as humility and empathy.

Interestingly enough, authentic pride can also be extremely beneficial when tackling future goals. Past research supports that individuals with authentic pride show higher levels of life engagement and goal reengagement. Similarly, having authentic pride may help you persevere toward long-term goals. A study that induced participants to feel authentic pride (compared to a baseline control) found that participants in the pride condition spent significantly more time working on a mental rotation task than participants in the control condition. Perhaps this is because authentic pride places value on past efforts, which in turn may predispose us to value effort on future tasks. Authentic pride bridges our ability to savor past wins and impels us to pursue greater goals down the road.

Research also supports authentic pride promoting delay of gratification, which aids in pursuing long-term goals. One study gave 153 students 27 delayed discounting tasks after inducing authentic pride, hubristic pride, or nothing (control). Results showed that students in the authentic pride condition chose to delay gratification on the discounting task significantly more than the control or hubristic pride conditions. Because authentic pride is associated with goal reengagement, perhaps individuals in this condition were more likely to delay gratification because they realized the longer-term reward would be greater.

With this past research in mind, how can we begin to practice authentic pride on a daily basis? Start by writing down achievements you take pride in. Did you nail all the talking points in your presentation? Did you exercise on the days you committed to? More importantly, would you still be proud of these accomplishments if no one knew about them or cared? If the answer is yes, you have tapped into your authentic pride. Chances are, if your pride stems from external validation or comparison, you are closer to practicing hubristic pride. Instead, savor personal wins that will leverage your intrinsic motivation for the future. Relish the late nights in the library. Revel in the grind of midterms, final exams, and theses. Remember the relationships you built, as well as the ones you were smart enough to let go of. But most importantly, be authentically proud: it will only benefit you as you jump into your next adventure.  

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