Keeping secrets is good for you – New 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 new research.

A team from Columbia University recruited more than 2,500 people to take part 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 items such as saving up money, buying a gift for themselves or reducing a debt.

They indicated which pieces of good news they currently had and which they had kept a secret.

Some were asked to reflect on the good news they kept secret, while others reflected on good news that was not secret, and then rated how energised the news made them feel and whether they intended to share the news with someone else.

The team discovered that people held on average 14 to 15 pieces of good news, but kept five or six secret.

The participants who reflected on their positive secrets reported feeling more energised than the participants who thought about their good news that was not secret.

Those who reported that they intended to share their news with others also said they felt more energised.

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 were told to imagine that they kept their good news secret until they told their partner later in the day, while the rest imagined that they were currently unable to reach their partner and so were not able to tell them until later in the day.

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 (stock image)


The people who imagined a ‘want’ to hold the information back to make the revelation surprising were more energised than when they were unable to reveal the information due to other factors.

Lead author Michael Slepian said: ‘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?

‘While negative secrets are far 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 in particular for personal reasons, rather than because they felt forced by outside pressures to keep the information hidden.

And in contrast to negative or embarrassing secrets, positive secrets made people feel more ‘alive’ when they chose to keep the information to themselves.

‘People will often keep positive secrets for their own enjoyment, or to make a surprise more exciting,’ Mr Slepian said.

‘Rather than based in external pressures, positive secrets are more often chosen due to personal desires and internal motives.

‘When we feel that our actions arise from our own desires rather than external pressures, we also feel ready to take on whatever lies ahead.

‘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 findings were published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Across six studies two researchers, Dr Shai Davidai from the New School for Social Research and Professor Thomas Gilovich of Cornell University, examined the idea that deepest regrets come from not pursuing our most ambitious dreams.

They found that these deep-rooted regrets stem from such things as not pursuing a loved one, abandoning hopes of playing a musical instrument and not travelling the world.

These relate to what is dubbed a person’s ‘ideal-self’ – the image every person has in their head of who they are and the type of person they want to be.

Other examples from anonymous volunteers, whose ages are in brackets, included:

• ‘I sold [my shares in] Netflix and Facebook before the huge run-up after 2011’ (29 years old)

• ‘About ten years ago I went on a big diet and lost 53lb. I held the weight off for years. I thought I would never gain the weight back and totally regret all the food mistakes I’ve made’ (43 years old)

• ‘My freshman year of college I was offered an incredible opportunity to do my own research in two different countries. I didn’t go because my family didn’t want me to go and I had concerns over finances to do with my apartment, funding it and my pet’ (22 years old)

• ‘My biggest regret was not going to graduate school when I had the opportunity. I have found success elsewhere and raised my family how I wanted to, but I have always regretted not going’ (54 years old)

• ‘My biggest regret in life was not pursuing my dream of singing. I followed a traditional route instead and became a teacher. The dream remains… the what if!’ (62 years old)

• ‘I regret not having more fun in high school’ (18 years old)

• ‘I regret not having gotten involved in anything extracurricular during my high school years. I was in the national honour society but that hardly counts (33 years old)

• ‘I regret not keeping in touch with my best friend in college. It pains me that we lost touch’ (26 years old)

• ‘I did not pursue a career in acting when I was younger. I feel like I gave up on my dream because of doubts others had. I wish I could go back in time and tell my younger self to believe in my talent more’ (35 years old)

• ‘Letting go of a girl that was an incredible match for me in almost every aspect imaginable because I was in a relationship with someone who I knew wasn’t right for me’ (30 years old)

• ‘The biggest regret was to remarry and leave a job, home and state I was happy with. I made a terrible mistake and gave up way to much to alleviate a loneliness I was feeling. What a fool I was’ (71 years old)

• ‘Many years ago when my husband and I first married, we nearly bought our dream house. It wasn’t ideal but we loved it. We decided not to buy it as we felt pressure from our parents. I regret not stepping up, being an adult and going with my gut feeling. I regret letting our parents influence us so much. I also regret it because it have been a great investment’ (46 years old)




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