Lesson 2: On Humility

How are you thinking about your professional career services practice after the Class 1 session? Has anything shifted for you? Are you more aware of the processes by which gratitude impacts your own happiness?

Let’s begin Class 2 with a thought-provoking video on humility using the Tao Te Ching’s Philosophy of Water presented by Raymond Tang. His 10-minute presentation digs into career phenomena as well as soft skills. View it below.


Hopefully that got your brain juices flowing!

Many will think that a sense of humility fits Eastern philosophy and culture but might question its necessity in the West or competitive fields of business. Maybe the Forbes magazine Coaches Council’s article on humility and its benefits from 2017 will fill in some of our gaps. Please read this article.

Now I am beginning to think, much like I did with gratitude, that the importance of humility is self-evident… that I should slap my head and shout, “Of course! Humility and gratitude are part of successful career and workforce development.”

As a social scientist, self-evident is no replacement for actual evidence. I would like to describe an article by Kruse, Chancellor, Ruberton, and Lyubomirsky (2014) titled An Upward Spiral Between Gratitude and Humility. This peer-reviewed article describes 3 research studies exploring the relationship between gratitude and humility.


Findings of this quantitative study of 50 adult participants (25 wrote a letter of gratitude to someone kind to them and 25 were the control group) suggest that expressing gratitude in this way promotes humility thus decreasing self-focus and further promoting humility. Limitations in sample size and assessment reliability were noted, a second study was conducted.


Findings of this quantitative study of 229 adult participants (110 wrote a letter of gratitude while 119 were the control group) again finding that gratitude seems to increase humility while increased humility predicts a greater capacity to experience gratitude. In other words, there is a bidirectional relationship between gratitude and humility according to these studies.


This diary study of 48 undergraduate students which confirmed the influence of gratitude on humility and vice versa in the same participants over time. In general, increased humility the day prior to measuring gratitude has a positive effect on gratitude capacity while increased gratitude the day before measurement had a positive effect on humility. This seems to confirm the idea of an upward spiral hypothesis whereby gratitude and humility are mutually reinforcing on one another over time.

In total, the three studies use both experimental and naturalistic methods to support three primary theoretical ideas:

1.      Gratitude is an anteceded “elicitor” of humility.

2.      Humility is a state that fosters gratitude more readily.

3.      The two (gratitude and humility) seem to reinforce one another.

The full article can be read here. 

Hopefully, you are convinced by the anecdotes and science that humility is closely related to gratitude AND are important functions in developing deep soft skills.  Let’s dig a little deeper as you view the dialogue video for this lesson lasting 15 minutes.


In this Lesson 2 we learned about humility, how it undergirds soft skill development, and its relationship to gratitude. In Class 3 we will tie this directly into empathy development and working.

I would like to end by sharing on of my favorite speeches of all time by David Foster Wallace. If you recall the opening video in this Lesson, then the title This is Water will make sense as we tie up Lesson 2. I encourage you to think about your life, the life of others, and the role humility plays as you view this video.


All the while remember this is water, this is water…

Now that you have finished with Lesson 2, answer questions 4-6 on your worksheet. Once finished with that, mark this lesson complete and then you can go to Lesson 3!