Why It Is Better to Be Happy Than to Be Right

“I’d far rather be happy than right any day.”

Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

We have all been there. We have found ourselves stuck in a meaningless argument that we just didn’t want to drop because we knew we were right and we didn’t want to give in to a person whom we believed to be wrong. Our stubbornness and pride kept us stuck on a treadmill, making absolutely no progress, but refusing to allow the other person to have the final say. All this simply because we knew we were right and wanted someone to acknowledge it.

I once had such a discussion with my husband, but because it took place in front of our son, I decided to not let it get to the point of becoming an argument. We were debating whether or not the casino on board our cruise ship would stay open after the shipped docked in the port. Meaningless, right? My husband’s opinion was that it would not open, because from his past experience, every other cruise ship he had been on had closed its casino once the ship was in port. My opinion was that it would not close because I couldn’t think of one reason why it would have to. My husband insisted on his point of view because he relied on his prior experience as evidence. Because I had no prior experience, I relied on logic for my conclusion. I decided to drop the argument rather than try to convince my husband why his prior experience didn’t apply in this case. You see, we were on a cruise to the Bahamas, where casinos are legal. His prior cruise experiences had been in Singapore and Hong Kong, two cities were casinos (at least at that time) were not allowed. When the ship’s casino did open that night to my husband’s surprise, he apologized to me. Only at that point (and only because he was surprised) did I explain to him why his previous experiences had not applied in this situation.

Because I had not insisted on proving that I was right, we were able to have a wonderful time that day and avoid having a heated discussion in front of our son. It would have made absolutely no difference to how we spent our day in the Bahamas if I had successfully convinced my husband that I was correct. In the end, everyone was happy including me.

The important lesson I got from that experience was to learn to the differentiate between when it is crucial and when it is petty to prove that you are right. There are of course many instances when you need to make sure that everyone has the correct information so that the best decision can be made. Situations involving careers, finances, health, childcare, and so on would fall into that category. But there are many more instances that we experience everyday where it really doesn’t matter who is right. And even more instances where there is no absolute right answer and it is simply a matter of perception or opinion. It is in these two latter categories where you run the risk of sacrificing your happiness (and the happiness of those around you) simply for the gratification of being able to hear someone else say that you are right.

What leads us to have this desire to be validated as being right? In my opinion it is based entirely on ego. It comes from wanting to feel intelligent, important, respected, perhaps even admired. And maybe even from not wanting the other person to have those same feelings when we don’t think they deserve them. Again, meaningless, right? But what happens when both parties of the debate reach an impasse? What happens when you get to the stage where reason, logic and even facts are only helping to escalate the argument rather than resolve it? When you reach that point, you can easily start to cross over into anger. And once you become angry, the truth no longer matters to either of you. Being right and “winning the argument” is the only thing that counts, and neither party will be satisfied with anything less.

Before you get to that stage, decide to put ego aside. Realize that you are in a situation from which there will be no winner, only two losers. The best next step to take is to practice civility and just agree to disagree. Do so in a cordial manner, with kindness and respect for the other party. That way the argument will end peacefully, with no lingering resentment on either side. This doesn’t mean that you are being the bigger person. Nor does that it mean that you are allowing yourself to be pushed around. All it means is that you see that there is a better way. Not every situation should lead to one winner and one loser. By taking this step, you not only preserve your own happiness, but also the happiness of all involved. And this way, this better way, allows for everyone to win in the end.

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  • Speaking of having to be right, this reminds me of a few other people I know. One in particular has a phD and saw a crane the other day while walking to work. I was just playing with her, saying it’s a flamingo that she saw. She said that there’s no way it could be a flamingo because they are always pink even though I said that they aren’t always pink.

    Then, I joked that it’s the AFLAC spokesduck (cranes look nothing like ducks and she should have realized I was joking at that point as a nearby coworker was laughing at my joke), to which she was still upset at my answer and insistent that it was not a duck.

    I decided to let drop because she’s one of those people who just have to be right, what with a smancy degree compared to my BS. It shows in the way she interacts with other people. She will also ask for things in a very demanding tone and has upset a few other people, one of which also has a phD.

    I think she has a a chip on her shoulder. And she gets to me, too. She frequently demands I do something instead of asking of me nicely.

    She will also go out of her way to get the seat she wants in the car whenever we go to lunch, basically taking and telling the other person to go to the backseat.

    This happened again the other day as we were returning to our two cars from lunch. I was following the original group back to the car when she suddenly demanded out of nowhere that I go with the people in the other group.

    I guess that’s the needle that broke the camel’s back. I was upset enough that I basically stormed off with the other group and remarked to someone that she’s really quite rude and that I refuse to tolerate such behavior by being in the same car as she is on the ride back.

    But one thing’s for sure now that I think about it more. She’s in my life for a reason and that is for me to learn how to deal with bossy people who insist on being right and inconsiderate in the process so that I can find inner peace.

  • Daniela Naidu

    Thanks for sharing your story. Your attitude of looking at this woman as being in your life for a reason is a great one.

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