One of my favorite moments in the movie “A Room with a View” is where George climbs up an olive tree, and begins proclaiming his creed. He cries “Beauty!” “L’espoir!” “Vérité!” “Trust!” “Joy!” and, just as the tree limb gives way, “Truth!”
Truth as a concept is very much in our minds these days, at least if we read the news. But this post is not about assessing truth in others (in that, Snopes is a good ally) as much as it is about the health benefits of telling it yourself. Most (or only many?) of us have a twinge of guilt when we purposefully tell something we know not to be true. But it’s hard to tell the complete truth all the time; our daily lives seem to require the telling of white lies (consider Jim Carrey’s character in the movie Liar Liar).
Enter research. Anita Kelly and colleagues did a study called “The Science of Honesty” and found that compared to a control group, the “sincere” subjects felt physically healthier (fewer headaches and sore throats, less nausea, and fewer mental health complaints as well). It took a few weeks for the effects to kick in—author Kelly calls it a “process”. Similarly, Pennebaker found that telling rather than hiding difficult information resulted in better sleep and less worry (and even improved immune system measures!) for the teller. On the other hand, lying is thought to build up stress hormones, and create tension in the body. Dr. Bryan Bruno notes: “Lying less is not only good for your relationships, but for yourself as an individual. People might recognize the more devastating impact lying can have on relationships, but probably don’t recognize the extent to which it can cause a lot of internal stress.”
Hmmm…I’m already giving up soda and impulse snacks for Lent (success rate is about 80%) but working towards being truthier (!) might be a worthy longer term goal! What do you think?
More reading about truth:
–George Washington could not tell a lie! (actually, Mason Weems made that up but it’s a great story)
–There is a city called Truth or Consequences in New Mexico. They changed (from the name Hot Springs) to match the name of the then-popular TV show. Go there if you dare!
–Cinéma vérité is a style of film-making that stays close to the truth, while presenting material from an artistic perspective. It mostly applies to movies, but there are TV programs that have the same style. Trauma: Life in the ER and Boston Med are, not surprisingly, two of my favorites!
—How to tell if someone is lying? “The key is to watch rather than listen”.
—Strange but true articles from Scientific American
–Born a slave named Isabella, Sojourner Truth chose her name as she began to travel the country, “telling the truth and working against injustice”.
—Whether or not to tell the truth can be a wrenching decision for healthcare providers