Your Fresh Start
5 tips to feel better and be better in “sweet ’16.”
2. Be honest
No one gets through adult life being completely honest. In fact, a study at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst found that 60 percent of study subjects lied at least once during a 10-minute conversation.
But recent research indicates that being more honest may not only be better for your conscience, but for your health as well. Anita Kelly, Ph.D., and Lijuan Wang, Ph.D., both professors at the University of Notre Dame, studied 72 healthy adults, splitting them into a “sincerity” group and a control group, and subjecting them to polygraph tests and health measures for five weeks. Members of the sincerity group were instructed to “speak honestly, truthfully and sincerely—not only about the big things, but also about the small things, such as why you were late. While you certainly can choose not to answer questions, you must always mean what you say.” Over the course of the study, the sincerity group reported significantly fewer health complaints (such as headaches, sore throats, nausea) than did members of the control group.
The findings ring true to clinical psychologist Michael Friedman, Ph.D., a New Jersey resident with a practice in New York City. “In terms of anecdotal clinical evidence, my impression is that honesty is highly related to health and well-being,” he says. The reasons, he believes, are threefold:
Suppression leads to stress. “There’s pretty good evidence that suppressing emotions and thoughts— whether you’re lying to others about what you feel or lying to yourself—makes depression and anxiety worse.”
What you’re hiding is probably not healthy. “The way most people give themselves ‘permission’ to indulge in unhealthy behaviors—such as binge eating, smoking or excessive drinking—is predicated on the behavior being secret. You’re much more likely to engage in such behaviors if you feel OK lying about them.”
Lack of sincerity shows. “If someone catches a whiff that you’re a dishonest person, they view you differently, trust you less and likely don’t want to deepen a relationship with you,” Dr. Friedman says. “It’s very rare that someone will confront you directly, but they’ll steer away from you. Over time, that becomes a problem, because satisfying social networks are strongly related to health and well-being.”
As a general rule, the adage “To thine own self be true” applies, says Dr. Friedman. “People who are dishonest with others also tend not to be fully honest with themselves. All things being equal, the more honest you can be with yourself and others, the better off you’ll be.”