If your first reaction to having good news—receiving a prize, a present, a promotion—is to share it with a friend, you're not alone. In a survey of 500 people, my colleagues and I found that 76% of respondents said that the first thing they would do after learning good news is tell someone.

The instinct to reach out to others is a good one. When you share your good news with others, you can celebrate with them, receive their recognition, and keep the good times rolling. By sharing good news with others, you can savor it by spending more time thinking about it and reflecting on it. And the more you savor the good things in life, the happier you tend to be.

While sharing good news with others offers a range of benefits, including greater happiness and well-being, it turns out that there is another way to make the most of positive life events, and that's keeping them secret. Our research demonstrates that keeping positive secrets can be energizing and vitalizing.

Positive and Negative Secrets

Decades of research have found that keeping secrets is associated with fatigue, negative mood, and lower well-being. However, this research primarily focused on keeping negative secrets—secrets that have negative implications for people's lives. Yet, people commonly keep positive secrets as well. From a list of 38 common pieces of good news, we found that on average people have 5 to 6 pieces of good news that they are currently keeping secret. The most common piece of good news that people keep to themselves includes what we call a "self-gift," when someone has treated themselves to something special. Having a gift to give to another, finding something you've been looking for, and completing a task were other common pieces of good news that people were currently keeping secret.

Across several studies, we asked participants to think of a positive secret they were keeping, and then measured their current mood and how energized they felt in that moment. Another group of participants was asked to think of good news that was not secret. For the same types of good news, thinking about secret good news was more energizing than thinking about non-secret good news.

Thinking about positive secrets was also more energizing than thinking about positive information that has not been shared for other reasons, such as when you intend to share the good news with someone, but cannot talk to them until later in the day. And lastly, thinking about positive secrets was more energizing than thinking about other kinds of secrets.

Why Are Positive Secrets More Energizing than Negative Secrets?

There are two reasons why positive secrets are more energizing than other kinds of secrets. First, even when you are somewhat embarrassed by a positive secret—such as an award you've won or some other accomplishment (perhaps you just beat the final level of a video game)—because you still feel good about the secret itself, thinking about the secret tends to be energizing. Feeling good, and reflecting on positive moods, can be invigorating.

Second, people often keep negative secrets for extrinsic reasons—reasons external to the self. For example, people often keep negative secrets out of the desire to not look bad in front of others or to protect someone else or a relationship. Yet, when it comes to positive secrets, even the small ones (such as enjoying cartoons or soap operas), people often choose to keep these secrets more for intrinsic reasons—reasons internal to the self. You might keep a positive secret simply because you enjoy keeping the positive information to yourself. You may have no special need to tell others about your embarrassing hobbies, because you are happy and satisfied to enjoy such activities on your own. Even positive secrets that people have no intention of sharing can be energizing and vitalizing.

Conclusion

When it comes to positive secrets, you can eat your cake and have it too. Keeping a positive secret to yourself, even one that you plan to share at a later point in time, allows you to privately savor and enjoy the information. And planning to share the good news later is also energizing.

The next time something good happens to you, consider keeping it a secret for a short period of time before sharing it with others. You may enjoy your good news even more.


For Further Reading

Slepian, M. L., Greenaway, K. H., Camp, N. P., & Galinsky, A. D. (2023). The bright side of secrecy: The energizing effect of positive secrets. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 125, 1018-1035. https://doi.org/10.1037/pspa0000352

Slepian, M. L. (in press). The new psychology of secrecy. Current Directions in Psychological Science. https://doi.org/10.1177/09637214241226676

Slepian, M. L. (2022). The Secret Life of Secrets. Crown Publishing.


Michael Slepian is an Associate Professor at Columbia University. He studies the psychological effects of secrecy, the development and formation of trust, and person perception.