The Benefits of Keeping Good News to Yourself

woman keeping a secret

Though people often want to share good news as soon as they learn it, a new study has found that keeping good news a secret before telling someone else could make people feel more energized and alive.

“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?”

lead author Michael Slepian, PhD, an associate professor of business at Columbia University, asked.

Some of the most joyous moments in life, such as surprise gifts, marriage proposals, pregnancies, and exciting news, start out as secrets, even though negative secrets are far more common than positive ones.

Acceptable Secrecy

76% of 500 individuals surveyed prior to the study said that the first thing they would do when they received happy news was to share it with someone. However, many positive life events, such as a marriage proposal, a desired pregnancy, or a lavish luxury purchase, are acceptable topics of secrecy.

To learn more about what drives people to maintain positive secrets and the potential effects of keeping a positive secret versus a secret they keep because they find it unpleasant or embarrassing, researchers ran five experiments involving over 2,500 participants.

In one experiment, participants were shown a list of nearly 40 common types of good news, which included items such as saving up money, buying a gift for oneself or reducing a debt. The participants then indicated which pieces of good news they currently had and which they had kept secret.

After reflecting on good news that they kept private, some participants were asked to rate how energized they felt and whether they planned to share the good news with others. Others were asked to reflect on good news that they shared with others.

Introspective Vitality

The researchers observed that individuals, on average, retained between fourteen and fifteen pieces of positive news, of which five to six were concealed. The individuals who engaged in introspection regarding their positive secrets reported experiencing a greater sense of vitality in comparison to those who contemplated their non-secret good news.

People who reported that they intended to share their news with others also reported feeling more energized, whether the news was secret or not.

“Positive secrets that people choose to keep should make them feel good, and positive emotion is a known predictor of feeling energized,”

said Slepian. But the researchers found across four follow-up studies that positive secrets make people feel energized for another reason too.

Savoring Surprise

One of those experiments showed participants the list of common types of good news and asked them to select the piece of news that was most likely to happen to them in the near future.

One group of participants then imagined that they kept the good news secret until they told their partner later that day while another group imagined that they were currently unable to reach their partner and so were not able to tell them until later in the day.

Participants were more energized when they imagined wanting to withhold the information to make the revelation surprising.

In an additional investigation, subjects were requested to recollect either a recent positive secret (one that evoked feelings of goodwill), a recent negative secret (one that evoked feelings of badwill), or a current secret in general. The researchers discovered that individuals are more likely to maintain positive secrets for internal or personal reasons, as opposed to feeling compelled to do so by external pressures.

Internal Choice

According to Slepian, people felt more enlivened when they had the option to keep the information secret as opposed to negative or embarrassing secrets, which are frequently subject to outside pressures or fears.

“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,” he said. “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.”

The researchers also discovered that keeping good news to themselves can make people feel energized and alive, regardless of whether they intend to share that information with others later on. This is the power of intrinsic motivation.

“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,”

Slepian said.

We can savor this thrilling moment for longer, even if it’s just in our imaginations, when we have more time — days, weeks, or even longer — to picture the happy surprise on someone else’s face.

  1. Michael Slepian, Adam Galinksy, Katharine Greenaway, Nicholas Camp. The Bright Side of Secrecy: The Energizing Effect of Positive Secrets. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2023, Vol.125, No.5, 1018–1035