Sweet Revenge?

So, it’s a new year. A fresh start. Resolutions and all that . . . including letting go of some grievances. Revenge? Don’t even think about it.

That idiot who cut you off on the highway this morning. That oblivious person who took an overflowing cart into the 10-items-or-less lane at the grocery store when you were in a hurry to get to your kid’s recital. That ornery aunt who insulted you for your political ideology over the holidays. Clemson, if you were Alabama on Monday. And so on.

The desire for revenge is fairly universal, even understandable. Evolutionary psychologists believe it might even be hard-wired into us as a form of seeking justice.

When we’ve been wronged, “The desire to repair that pain and improve our mood may be one of the things that motivates us to seek revenge,” writes Jennifer Breheny Wallace in The Washington Post, citing six studies recently published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

In one experiment, college students were asked to write an essay to be submitted for comments. Some received positive feedback (“great essay!”) and some received negative (“one of the worst essays I have EVER read!”). Participants were then given a test to measure their emotional state, and then to take it a step further, they were given the opportunity to stick pins into a voodoo doll representing the person who graded the essay.

The results were predictable: Getting revenge felt good. Those who literally stuck it to their dolls reported improved moods afterwards. At least temporarily.

Further research indicated that those initial good feeling wane, and in the end, “they actually report feeling worse than they did before they sought revenge,” says David Chester, a researcher at Virginia Commonwealth University.

The Post article also cited a University of Virginia study indicating that “seeking revenge can backfire” in the end, making you feel even worse than before.

Maybe the Bible was onto something with the suggestion that we leave the business of revenge to God, while calling us humans to the pursuit of justice, which is quite different from revenge.

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