The Benefits of Being (More) Honest

Joelle Klein

by | Read time: 4 minutes

Everyone lies. It’s true. One study reported that people lie at least once or twice a day. Another study found that within a 10-minute conversation, 60% of participants lied at least once and, on average, two to three times.

Why do people lie, and what do they lie about? Some people lie to make themselves look or feel better. Some people lie to protect others. Some people simply omit the truth or the whole truth. Some people lie to themselves when the truth is too difficult to accept. And, of course, some people lie to deceive others intentionally.

Woman Having Open Conversation on Couch After Learning How to Be More Honest |

In other words, we all lie in one way or another at some point in our day. But is that bad? Not always, according to a study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. Researchers Emma Levine and Maurice Schweitzer found that individuals who told lies that helped others, which are called prosocial lies, were perceived to be more moral than individuals who told the truth but harmed others. So, in other words, kindness can trump truth in some cases.

But, while prosocial lies seem harmless, be conscious of your reason for telling one. “There’s a difference between a prosocial lie when you’re trying to build empathy and one where you think you’re doing it for the benefit of someone else, but really it’s your own fear or ego that’s standing in the way of telling the truth,” said Judi Ketteler, author of “Would I Lie to You? The Amazing Power of Being Honest in a World that Lies.”

Ketteler started what she called an honesty journal about three years ago. She looked at the honesty choices she was making every day and recorded them in a google document.

“I was having trouble in my marriage, and my kids were getting to ages where they were asking a lot of questions, and I felt like I was phoning it in and shoving off difficult questions that I didn’t want to answer. Also, I was writing essays and blogs, and there was a sense that I wasn’t telling the whole story,” she says by way of explanation for why she started an honesty journal.

Through this journal, Ketteler noticed that while she wasn’t telling huge lies or committing fraud, she learned she wasn’t as truthful as she had hoped. She felt a disconnect between her authentic self and the self she was putting out in her writing and in public. So, she made a conscious effort to be more honest.

Benefits of being honest

Is it worth it to make this effort? When you think about being more honest, you may bristle at the thought of how challenging or awkward it would be in certain situations. Ketteler admits it can be difficult. She suggests starting in the area of your life that’s giving you the most angst, whether it’s a familial relationship, a work situation, or spousal friction. Here are some of the benefits you may reap.

Honest conversations are better

Think about conversations you’ve had at parties. Which ones are more memorable, small talk or deep, truthful conversations? In a study called, “You Can Handle the Truth: Mispredicting the consequences of honest communication,” researchers asked people to be completely honest with everyone in their lives for three days.

The result? Honest conversations, the study found, are far more enjoyable for communicators than they expect them to be, and the listeners of honest conversations react less negatively than expected.

Honesty can boost your physical and mental health

Have you ever felt sick to your stomach after telling a lie? Does not telling the truth ever make you anxious? If so, you won’t be surprised by a study called “Science of Honesty,” where half of the 110 participants were instructed to stop telling major and minor lies for 10 weeks. The other half were not given any instructions about lying.

After 10 weeks, the honesty group reported fewer mental-health and physical complaints. They felt less tense and melancholy and had fewer headaches or sore throats than the control group. Additionally, the honesty group also reported improved personal relationships.

Honesty makes you feel at peace

Ketteler says one of the biggest benefits she received from being more honest is feeling more aligned with her true self. “I don’t feel this cognitive dissonance that I’ve felt for, maybe, my whole life,” she says.

Furthermore, the truth can make things easier. Once you know you’re going to choose truth, you don’t have to waste emotional energy coming up with a lie. “I feel more content now than I’ve felt in a long time,” Ketteler says.

How to be more honest

Ready to be more honest with yourself, your friends, your co-workers, your partner and your family? Ketteler says the first step is to become more aware. She recommends some type of journal but realizes writing things down is not for everyone.

“You can’t make changes until you realize what you’re working with. Once you start to become more aware of when you lie, start asking yourself why you’re lying. Is it for the benefit of someone else, or is it for your own self-interest?”

Ketteler says that since she focused on being more honest in one area in her life, such as her communications with her husband, she found that she was able to do it in other areas of her life. Among many things, she discovered that it’s entirely possible to be honest without being a jerk. She found that honesty is contagious (in a good way), meaning that once she shared what she was doing and was more honest with her friends and family, they made efforts to be more honest in their day-to-day dealings as well.

“People tell me all the time, “[Being honest] is better than I thought.”