A new study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology suggests that people who harbor ‘collective hate’ (hatred towards a group, an institution, or an abstract concept) can sometimes translate it into a sense of meaning in life which motivates them to confront their object of hate.
“I was curious about why people were so often consumed by hate, especially towards those with whom they disagreed. I also noticed that many public figures often gain traction by identifying a group to hate on,” explains psychologist Abdo Elnakouri of the University of Waterloo in Canada.
To study this question, Elnakouri’s research team made participants either write about something that they hated or something they just disliked. So, the participants were able to nominate something they felt really strongly about and were given the opportunity to vent their hate.
Others were asked to nominate an annoyance and to talk about their feelings about it.
“What we found was that those who were able to air out their hatred were much more likely to report feeling energized and determined,” says Elnakouri.
According to Elnakouri, these feelings made it seem like they had more meaning in their life, presumably because they felt energized to confront and fight against their object of hate.
However, this seemed to only be true for those that nominated a collective form of hate – that is, hatred towards a certain group, institution, or abstract phenomenon. Interestingly, those who talked about how much they hated a particular person did not experience this boost in meaning in life.
“It is probably harder to get meaning from confronting a colleague you hate versus a group that you think is doing real harm to society,” suggests Elnakouri.
Elnakouri distinguishes these two kinds of hatred from one another:
- Personal hatred comes from having real-world contact with particular people who have wronged you
- On the other hand, collective hatred can come from being part of a community that sees another group as an enemy
“So when your friends, family, and community identify a collective entity they don’t like, it’s easy to ‘fall into hatred’ for them as well. Of course, people can have their own idiosyncratic reasons for hating a particular collective entity,” clarifies Elnakouri.
Whether such collective hatred is beneficial in the long run is unclear. While hatred can be an easier way to find meaning in life for those who are struggling, it is possible that over a period of time people who constantly draw on hating something for meaning might go down the wrong path.
On the other hand, speculates Elnakouri, maybe people do need to cultivate more collective hatred towards phenomena like climate change, racism, and other societal ills.
“It’s hard to build vibrant relationships, a fulfilling career, and a healthy environment. What’s probably easier is identifying something that you deeply hate to get you up in the morning,” explains Elnakouri.
For anyone who might be struggling to find meaning in their life and are not looking to use hate as a way out, Elankouri has the following advice:
- Engage with life
- Be active
- Make social connections
- Establish goals for yourself, however small
Elnakouri explains that people who get stuck in a rut too often try to intellectualize their way out of it.
“It’s hard to think your way out of a rut that you’ve likely behaved your way into,” he explains. “Instead, go out and engage with the world. Often, you’ll be surprised at the boost in optimism that comes naturally after that.”
A full interview with psychologist Abdo Elnakouri discussing his research can be found here: Can hate give your life meaning?