Revenge Really Does Make You Happier

Maybe the old Klingon proverb is right: revenge really is a dish best served cold. However you take it, though, you’ll like it. Psychologists have found that taking revenge will make you measurably happier.

In the first part of the study, participants had to write personal essays which they’d switch with other participants to get some feedback. However, some participants actually received mean-spirited responses written by researchers that trashed their personal essays. Researchers then gave them voodoo dolls (we’re not kidding), asked participants to pretend it was the other “study participant” who trashed their writing. Turns out, getting to stick the voodoo dolls with pins indeed made the participants happier.

The second part of the study was even weirder. 154 volunteers were recruited, and all were given a special pill that, researchers said, would sharpen their cognitive abilities. Some subjects were also told that the pill had mood-stabilising effects, locking them into whatever mood they were feeling when they took the pill. These were all lies, of course. The pills were just placebos. Being a researcher sounds like fun.

Anyway, the participants then had to play what they believed to be a team-based computer game (more lies), where some of the games were programmed such that they felt ignored by their team. Participants were then given a chance to ‘punish’ their team by hitting them with an uncomfortably loud blast from their headphones. Most went for it. The ones who didn’t were the participants who were told that the pill they had taken had mood stabilising effects. I.e., they thought that they didn’t have a chance of improving their mood, so they didn’t bother.

Anyway, this study shows that people don’t just enjoy revenge, they do it to make themselves feel better. Of course, this isn’t to say that revenge is a good idea and won’t backfire spectacularly—after all, the people you take revenge on probably enjoy revenge too. But still, interesting that we should love it so much.