Thursday, November 17, 2011

Does Getting Revenge Make you Happy?

Sometimes getting revenge does make people feel better, but often it does not. One reason it does not is that people who plot revenge end up thinking a lot more about the original offense than people who have no chance to get revenge and therefore just move on. This is part of a broad finding in psychology:
Many early psychological views toward revenge were based on the larger concept of emotional catharsis. This idea, still widely held in the popular culture, suggests that venting aggression ultimately purges it from the body. But empirical research failed to validate the theory of catharsis, and some recent work contradicts it entirely. In a 2002 paper in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, APS Fellow Brad Bushman of The Ohio State University reported higher levels of aggression in people who had supposedly vented their anger than in those who had done nothing at all.
As I have mentioned here before, many relatives of murder victims find that rather than providing closure, the execution of the killer makes them feel worse. There is pretty much no evidence for the whole notion that cathartic acts -- confronting your enemies, getting revenge, saying your piece or what have you -- lead to greater happiness, and much evidence that acceptance and focusing on the positive do help make you happy. Happiness is much less about particular successes or failures than about your overall attitude toward life. All the evidence is that people who cultivate serenity are happier than those who bristle with anger or aggression.

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