Does Getting Revenge Work? It Might Make You Happier, But That Doesn't Mean Retaliating Is The Right Move

When someone has wronged you, it's normal to feel a spectrum of emotions: anger, sadness, and sometimes even a desire to wrong them back. This is a good time to ask, though: Does getting revenge work? Is it actually worth it to hurt someone who has hurt you, or do you end up feeling worse? Is it ever possible for revenge to make you feel better? Well, the science is in, and a recent psychology study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology suggests that getting revenge actually does make you feel a lot happier. Worth noting, though, is that it still doesn't necessarily mean it's the right move to make.

According to Alex Fradera at PBS Reader's Digest, the revenge study worked like this: First, participants wrote personal essays and were told they'd be swapping with other volunteers for feedback. Here is where things get juicy, though: In place of actual feedback, some participants received pre-written, nasty messages that trashed their writing.

Then researchers gave participants a voodoo doll and encouraged them to pretend it was the person who had insulted them. How did sticking this imaginary person with pins via doll feel? Interestingly, the researchers found that the action went a long way in boosting the participants' moods.

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Of course, as Cari Romm at Science of Us points out, this alone doesn't necessarily tell us about the intent of the study participants. Were they actually seeking out revenge to feel better, or was it a matter of convenience?

So to gather more accurate results, study researchers went back in with a separate group of 154 volunteers in which each person received a pill they were told would sharpen their cognitive abilities. While all of these pills were actually just placeboes, some subjects were told the pill stabilized their moods, keeping it wherever it was until the medication wore off.

Next, participants played a seemingly team-based computer game — "seemingly" being the operative word. The game was programmed to make it seem like some players were ignoring the user. Afterwards, researchers gave the subjects a chance to get "revenge" on their teammates by sending them super loud music via headphones. Not only did most of the participants chose to do so, but even more interestingly, the "ignored" subjects who didn't opt to get revenge were the ones who had taken the mood-stabilizing pill. Fradera suggests that this may have happened because they assumed they had no chance in improving their mood via revenge, so they didn't bother.

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The findings raise a lot of questions when we think in terms of our ethics and morality. Aren't we taught to forgive and forget? Or to get justice through a "fair" or measured route? Since kindergarten, we've learned that one of the golden rules is to be the bigger person even when someone has hurt you. But this study suggest that there is, perhaps, a darker side to our psyche. It could also be the result of recent social or political climate, where people are feeling divided and on the defensive — or perhaps it's a chicken-and-egg problem, wherein the current social and political climate may be due to our tendencies not to turn the other cheek, but to lash out instead.

But while getting revenge might help you feel validated in the moment, it ultimately doesn't change your life or circumstances. And in fact, while some acts of getting revenge may seem "harmless," they can also be dangerous and cause serious damage to someone's life or livelihood. Even if you get temporary relief or happiness from getting some revenge, it might be worth finding other ways to handle your emotions. It's the only way to break the constant cycle of bad feeling — and actions.