You feel resentment when you feel something unfair happened to you – you felt you deserved something, but didn’t get it, or someone else got something that you feel they did not deserve1. For example, when you did not get your fair portion of a shared pizza, when you have something important to tell but no one is listening, or when you feel that you deserve a certain promotion, but your colleague got it instead.
Many social interactions can be pictured as transactions, in which tangible things like money and material goods are exchanged, but also intangible things like attention, love, pleasure, influence, appreciation, and respect. Each of us has an internal, often implicit sense of how much of these things we are entitled to, and from whom we should get them. People want to receive love from their family members, attention from their friends, appreciation from their boss, and respect from their subordinates. When people feel that they are not getting their fair share of these social resources, they will feel resentment2.
Interestingly, resentment also works the other way around: if you feel that someone else is getting more than their fair share3. For example, you can resent the fact that the CEO of your company is getting a bonus of ten million. However, resentment can always (at least in part) be lead back to personal entitlement: you find it unfair that someone else is getting it, instead of you. You compare your own efforts for the company with that of the CEO, and wonder what warrants the difference in pay.
There is also a sense of pettiness involved in resentment. While other emotions concern themselves with serious wrongdoings (e.g., anger), or moral injustices (e.g., indignation), resentment can be triggered by relatively benign and more selfish motives of entitlement4. For this reason, resentment is often minimally expressed in most cultures.
People who feel that life in general is treating them unfairly, because they don’t have the material possessions, attention or influence they feel they deserve, can develop a kind of general resentment against the world.
In the comic, Murphy feels resentful because his colleague runs off with the idea he just proposed.