When your partner proposes to you, or you land that job offer, the natural inclination is to share the excitement. However, recent research suggests there’s power in keeping positive secrets to yourself.
In a study published by The Journal Of Personality And Social Psychology: Attitudes And Social Cognition, 2,800 participants aged 18 to 78 engaged in five experiments. One experiment involved participants listing 38 types of positive personal news, including new romances or upcoming trips, with an average of 15 experiences. Notably, five to six of these experiences were kept secret. Individuals who reflected on undisclosed good news reported feeling significantly more “energized” compared to those reflecting on positive experiences already shared.
“It’s not energy in the sense of, you know, ‘I just drank coffee,’” said Michael Slepian, an associate professor of business at Columbia University, the author of The Secret Life Of Secrets and a lead researcher on the study. Instead, he described it as a kind of “psychological energy,” similar to the feeling you experience when deeply engaged in something.
“If you keep information secret simply because you want to, and your choice reflects your values and convictions, this study shows it may actually be beneficial,” according to Andreas Wismeijer, a psychology lecturer at Tilburg University in the Netherlands, who has explored the subject of secrets in his studies, although he was not involved in the current research.
Meanwhile, Dr. Slepian emphasized that his recent research doesn’t encourage people to keep positive news to themselves indefinitely, though participants in the study reported feeling energized by keeping a positive secret regardless of whether they eventually planned to share it. One of the examples he provided was mentioning a hobby or pastime that brings joy but might not be something one necessarily wants to discuss with others.
In addition, Dr. Slepian saw a connection between the findings and research on “savoring,” which highlights that appreciating everyday pleasures, such as the scent of the air when you step outside, can enhance joy and mindset. He suggested that dedicating additional time to cherish a positive secret you intend to share later, like an anticipated pregnancy or an exciting life change, could yield similar positive effects.
“Positive events tend to sort of blend together,” Dr. Slepian said. “One way to sort of break out of that, and to leverage the positive experiences that we all have, is just to spend a little more time with them, thinking about them, reflecting on them and enjoying them.”
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