By Xantha Leatham, Daily Mail deputy science editor
2:00 p.m. on November 13, 2023, updated at 2:00 p.m. on November 13, 2023
- Keeping secrets — at least for a little while — might actually brighten your day
- People keep positive secrets, especially for personal reasons, study finds
Whether it’s an engagement announcement, a new job, or even a lottery win, we often want to share good news as soon as possible.
But keeping secrets — at least for a little while — could actually brighten your day, according to a new study.
A team from Columbia University recruited more than 2,500 people to participate in their study, which involved a series of experiments.
In one, participants were shown a list of nearly 40 common types of good news, including things like saving money, buying yourself a gift or reducing debt.
They indicated what good news they currently had and what they had kept secret.
Some were asked to think about good news that they kept secret, while others thought about good news that was not secret, then rated how much the news energized them and whether they intended to share the news with someone else.
The team found that people held an average of 14 to 15 pieces of good news, but kept five or six secret.
Participants who reflected on their positive secrets reported feeling more energized than those who reflected on their good news that was not secret.
Those who said they intended to share their news with others also reported feeling more energized.
In another experiment, participants were asked to select a piece of news that was most likely to happen to them in the near future.
One group was asked to imagine that they were keeping their good news a secret until they told their partner later that day, while the others imagined that they were currently unable to contact their partner and could therefore not tell them until later in the day.
People who imagined wanting to withhold the information to make the revelation surprising were more energetic than when they were unable to reveal the information due to other factors.
Lead author Michael Slepian said: “Decades of research on secrecy suggests that 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 arise from keeping negative secrets?
“Although negative secrets are much more common than positive secrets, some of life’s most joyful occasions begin as secrets, including secret marriage proposals, pregnancies, surprise gifts, and exciting news.”
Analysis of another experiment found that people keep positive secrets, especially for personal reasons, rather than because they feel compelled by external pressures to keep this information hidden.
And unlike negative or embarrassing secrets, positive secrets make people feel more “alive” when they choose to keep the information to themselves.
“People often keep positive secrets for their own pleasure or to make a surprise more exciting,” Mr. Slepian said.
“Rather than relying on external pressures, positive secrets are more often chosen because of personal desires and internal motivations.
“When we feel that our actions arise from our own desires rather than external pressures, we also feel prepared to take on whatever lies ahead.
“People sometimes go to great lengths to orchestrate the revelation of a positive secret to make the event even more exciting.
“This kind of surprise can be extremely pleasant, but surprise is the most fleeting of our emotions.
“Having more time – days, weeks, or even longer – to imagine the joyful surprise on another person’s face allows us to spend more time with that exciting moment, if only in our own minds. “
The results were published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.