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  • Writer's pictureAlexander James

Keeping Schtum: Why Secrets Can Be Good News for Our Health

It’s a commonly held belief that secrets have shady or negative connotations. It takes effort to conceal the information, and this can make us feel guilty or even deceptive. There is some research to suggest that keeping a secret can lead to worse mental health, and even cause physical health problems.

When we have a secret, we not only have to constantly self-monitor everything that we say and do, but the very process of doing so keeps the secret at the forefront of our minds. If the secret involves shielding negative or damaging information from someone, this could potentially create or exacerbate feelings of guilt, isolation and depression.

The person keeping the secret can become trapped in a cycle of rumination that is difficult to break out from. This can take up a lot of mental and emotional energy, diverting it from work, relationships, and family, and eventually wear down the sense of self. It can seem that the only way to ease the situation is to confide in someone understanding.

However, new research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology has turned this theory on its head, and suggests that keeping some secrets could actually be good for us. Science Focus reports that researchers from Columbia University in the US have found that keeping positive news to ourselves can actually be good for us.

The study involved over 2,500 participants who each took part in five different experiments, which included identifying various pieces of good news that were relevant to them, such as buying a gift or saving money. They were then asked whether they intended to share the news or keep it to themselves for a while.

The study found that those participants who guarded their positive secrets felt happy and uplifted, and it also increased their pleasure in eventually sharing the good news. The researchers believe that this is because hanging on to the secret for longer prolongs and intensifies the joy.

Lead author Dr Michael Slepian, psychologist and associate professor of business at Columbia University, told Science Focus that previous studies into the keeping of secrets had only focused on the negative implications of concealing bad news, or news that would make someone else feel bad.

Slepian said: “Some of life's most joyful occasions begin as secrets, including secret marriage proposals, pregnancies, surprise gifts and exciting news.”

He added: “People will often keep positive secrets for their own enjoyment, or to make a surprise more exciting. 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.”

It may feel natural to want to share some good news with others as soon as possible in order to spread some joy in the world, but it may be worth sitting on that happy secret and letting it boost your own feel-good factor for a while first of all.

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