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Keeping secrets is often good for your health

The American Psychological Association recently published a study revealing an intriguing aspect of human behavior. According to scientists, keeping secrets about good news might actually boost feelings of energy and vitality. This finding challenges the traditional view of secrecy as harmful to our well-being.

Michael Slepian, PhD, the study’s lead author from Columbia University, questions the common narrative around secrecy.

“Decades of research on secrecy suggest it is bad for our well-being, but this work has only examined keeping secrets that have negative implications for our lives. Is secrecy inherently bad for our well-being or do the negative effects of secrecy tend to stem from keeping negative secrets?” Slepian inquires.

He points out that while negative secrets are more prevalent, many joyous life events like secret marriage proposals and pregnancies start as secrets.

How the secrecy study was conducted

A preliminary survey involving 500 individuals showed that 76% would immediately share good news. Yet, people often opt to keep positive events like marriage proposals or luxury purchases confidential.

In a series of five experiments with over 2,500 participants, the researchers aimed to understand the motivations behind keeping positive secrets and their effects. Participants were asked about various types of good news they had kept secret, and their feelings of energy related to these secrets.

On average, people had 14 to 15 pieces of good news, with five to six kept secret. Those reflecting on positive secrets felt more energized compared to those thinking about non-secret news.

Reason behind the energy boost

Slepian explains, “Positive secrets that people choose to keep should make them feel good, and positive emotion is a known predictor of feeling energized.” Further experiments supported this, showing that the anticipation of sharing the news later also contributed to the feeling of energy.

The study highlighted a stark difference between the reasons for keeping positive and negative secrets. Positive secrets are often kept for personal reasons and enjoyment, not due to external pressures.

“People will often keep positive secrets for their own enjoyment, or to make a surprise more exciting. Rather than based in external pressures, positive secrets are more often chosen due to personal desires and internal motives,” Slepian notes.

The research team concluded that keeping good news a secret can make individuals feel more energized and alive, irrespective of their plans to share the news later.

Slepian remarks, “People sometimes go to great lengths to orchestrate revealing a positive secret to make it all the more exciting. This kind of surprise can be intensely enjoyable, but surprise is the most fleeting of our emotions. Having extra time – days, weeks, or even longer – to imagine the joyful surprise on another person’s face allows us more time with this exciting moment, even if only in our own minds.”

The research was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

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