Would You Rather Be Right or Happy?

Previously I suggested that if you have a choice between striving to be right and striving to be happy, you’re generally better off choosing the latter.

Over the years I’ve found that a principal objection to this philosophy is: “I have a problem with just allowing someone who’s acting wrongly to get away with it. Perhaps I’d be better off if I just ignored all of the errors, the prejudice, and even the lies that I hear around me, but what kind of a world would we live in if everyone allowed that to happen? People shouldn’t be allowed to get away with being wrong”.

First of all, you can be sure that not everyone will ignore the transgressions that you notice. There’ll be plenty of critical voices raised by others. More importantly, though, how often have you succeeded in changing someone’s opinion about an issue by arguing with them? Chances are that when two people are arguing about who’s right, whether they’re little kids or full grown adults, neither is doing much genuine listening to the other. Instead, the listening that is occurring is listening for an opening that allows for a new argument to prove the other person wrong. Genuine listening requires you to be in a non-judgmental space, a space that is not occupied by a tenacious holding on to your opinion. Finally, if you are willing to entertain the possibility that the other person’s point-of-view may contain some seeds of truth, you can often construct together a blended position that is superior to either of the two sides you are each holding on to. In fact, genuine creativity is far more likely to flow from an “I don’t know” or “I’m not sure” place than it is to come from a place of certainty.

One of the most creative minds that ever existed, Albert Einstein’s, had this to say:

The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed.

By definition there can not be right or wrong in the mysterious. It is unknown territory.

Does this mean that if a someone who works for you hands in a document that is riddled with errors that you should just look the other way? Of course not. Correction is perfectly acceptable when it comes to factual errors. Particularly today, with Googleability, facts can be checked in a flash and, of course, you will want the right ones to be cited. But for many people the line between correct facts and correct opinions can be blurry. I most often find this to be true among perfectionists. For whatever reason (generally traceable to a hyper-critical parent) the perfectionist feels it is absolutely essential to be right, and is consistently on the lookout for opportunities to “improve” their, or someone else’s, take on a given subject. What’s sad is, in their quest for perfectionism, they give up the peace of mind that would lead them to the happiness they are vainly seeking through their being right. And they may also be doing severe damage to their relationships and their careers.

It’s OK to win some and to lose some. It’s OK to admit there are some things you don’t know, or are at least unsure about. People (whether your spouse, your neighbors, your boss, or your friends) are more likely to like you, want to be around you, and promote you if they feel that you have some respect for how they feel and what they think. Being right all the time doesn’t allow any space for that to happen, and the result will often be that you’ll go to sleep at night secure in the knowledge of how right you were, but wondering why you’re not happier.