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 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 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.