Depression is a serious problem which, despite the fact that there is a growing awareness of what it is, remains unknown to many people, including those in the field of psychology.

Despite much research on mood problems, it has not been possible to establish conclusively what causes depression and how to prevent it. In recent decades there has been talk of the importance that emotional intelligence could have as an influential factor in the emergence of the disorder, especially when a person displays humble personality traits.

That is why in this article we are going to talk about the relationship between depression and humility , talking in depth about emotional intelligence and, also, some differences that have been seen between cultures on this matter.

Depression and emotional intelligence

Before addressing in greater depth the relationship between depression and humility, it is necessary first to emphasize the importance of understanding the causes behind depression. Next, it is necessary to understand how emotional intelligence, which could include humility, plays an important role in explaining the onset of mood problems.

Depression is widely known, even outside of academia. Everyone is able to list some of the characteristic symptoms of this disorder , such as negative moods, sadness, anhedonia, inability to feel pleasure, and irritability. According to the WHO, depression is among the main health problems of the world’s population, generating suffering both at a personal level and in the patient’s own environment.

It is for these reasons that psychological research has focused on finding out what factors would be behind the onset of depression. This would not only have a therapeutic purpose, improving the current treatments by making them more precise, but it would also serve to prevent the appearance of this mood disorder.

In recent years, an attempt has been made to explain the appearance of depression by relating it to the patient’s emotional intelligence . This intelligence is currently understood as the set of skills related to the regulation, control and correct use of emotions when having to make a decision, especially when this is related to some aspect that will determine the mental and physical health of the person, both in the short and long term.

Based on the definition given above, the individual’s ability to identify both the emotion he is experiencing and the one manifested by others is a vital factor in having a correct psychological adjustment. High levels of emotional intelligence have been associated with a greater sense of emotional well-being, less stress, a more positive state of mind, higher self-esteem, less depression, greater optimism and more satisfaction with life in general.

On the other hand, it is understood that having a limited emotional intelligence, one would have a low control of negative emotions , directly associated with the manifestation of stress and depression. It has been seen that patients who have been diagnosed with depression present deficits in recognizing emotions in others.

Relationship between depression and humility

Once the relationship between the broad concept of emotional intelligence and state of mind is understood, it is possible to give way to a better understanding of the relationship between depression and humility.

Traditionally, in psychology, when understanding what well-being is, the focus has been on how people perceive and experience their lives in a positive way. It had been considered that if a person carried out positive self-evaluations and had a good degree of motivation in the face of life’s adversities, the subject could be considered a happy and psychologically adapted person.

However, while it is true that the extensive research that has addressed this has shown that having a good conception of oneself, even if it is an illusion, is something that can increase well-being, this is not the opinion of everyone. Several researchers have seen that having a high motivation and an overly positive view of oneself can imply potential harm to both your interpersonal adjustment and your individual well-being.

Thus, several investigations have seen that those who take a more humble and modest view of themselves enjoy greater well-being. This aspect has been something that has attracted the attention of psychologists in recent decades, and has been proposed to be addressed both by taking into account cultural and generational differences.

Humility has been related to a better regulation of one’s mental health , less negative affection, greater self-efficacy, respect and kindness with other people that translate into good interpersonal relationships as well as better cooperation in group tasks.

Despite all this, as with practically everything in psychology, it is necessary to define exactly what is meant by humility in the world of psychologists. Usually, behavioral science tries to define this concept in terms of, of course, behavior. By humility we could understand the fact of recognizing one’s own limitations in social situations , implying that one’s traits and capacities are not so bad.

The group of Chen et al. (2009) tried to find out what the components of humility were, coming to the conclusion that they would be the next three:

  • Devaluing oneself
  • Praise others
  • Going unnoticed

With these three components proposed here, it can be understood that humility consists, more precisely, in not giving too much importance to one’s own strengths , valuing above one’s own capacities the capacities of others and trying to pass the most unnoticed in social situations, without standing out.

The humble person focuses more on others than on himself, and not in terms of envy or wanting to be like others. He or she chooses self-regulatory behaviors, emphasizing the importance of others and not feeling distressed because he or she lacks certain characteristics. In this way, without envy and knowing how to see the best in others, the person feels good about himself, enjoying a high degree of well-being .

It should also be noted that the humble person, as he does not usually envy others, does not make risky decisions to feed his ego or try to stand out from others. For example, relating it to psychopathological disorders, anorexic people, who usually have very perfectionist features, feel a great social pressure that pushes them to try to reach the impossible canons of beauty nowadays. This translates into all the problems associated with eating disorders.

Humility is a protective factor when faced with the manifestation of depression , given that the person already feels comfortable with how he is, without seeking to satisfy the vision of others about what they expect of him or what, on a social level, he is expected to achieve. Being aware that she is not perfect nor will she be perfect, the humble person does not seek to achieve the impossible and, therefore, does not feel frustrated.

Cultural differences

In spite of all that was mentioned in the previous section, it can be said that differences have been found between countries which could dismantle, to a certain extent, the idea that humility is a protective factor against psychological problems, especially depression and anxiety.

Part of the research that has addressed this issue has seen that humility correlates negatively with subjective happiness. It is worth mentioning that this has been seen in samples of adolescents in Western countries and that, taking into account that puberty is a time of great changes in which people seek to stand out and create a group of friends, it is logical to think that those who try to go unnoticed end up feeling isolated from others, reaching marginalization and depression.

On the other hand, it has been seen in Asian cultures that humility is a protective factor of mental health . In countries like China, Japan and Korea, which are much more collectivist societies than Europe or North America, humility is seen as a socially desirable and fundamental objective in the interaction with others. A person who is modest is a person who, at the social level, has succeeded.

Therefore, taking into account these cultural differences, it is to be expected that adults from Asian countries who have humble features already enjoy a higher degree of well-being. On the one hand, and in relation to the previously mentioned, because they do not worry about standing out or being the best and, on the other hand, because they enjoy a trait that at a social level is highly valued.

Bibliographic references:

  • Fernández-Berrocal, P., Alcaide, R., and Extremera, N. (2006) The Role of Emotional Intelligence in Anxiety and Depression among Adolescents. Individual Differences Research, 4(1). 16-27.
  • Zheng, C. and Wu, Y. (2019) The More Modest You are, the Happier You are: The Mediating Roles of Emotional Intelligence and Self-esteem. Journal of Happiness Studies. DOI: 10.1007/s10902-019-00144-4
  • Downey, L. A., et al. (2008). The relationship between emotional intelligence and depression in a clinical sample. The European Journal of Psychiatry, 22(2). 93-98.