Has anyone ever asked you,
Do you want to be right or do you want to be happy?”
The first time I heard this question—many years ago—I have to admit I didn’t get it. I thought, can’t you be both right and happy?
As it turns out, not always.
If you have a habit of preferring to be right over preferring to be happy you may be suffering from the erroneous and unconscious belief that being right and being happy are synonymous. For people who like to be right, it’s simply logical.
Being right can mean making sure that you present all the facts, being crystal clear about where you’re coming from, or just plain having to win a debate or argument. While all of these can be useful—and even fun!—they’re not always the most skillful ways of relating to other people.
Don’t get me wrong: focusing on being happy over being right doesn’t mean you let other people walk all over you, or that you don’t tell other people what you’re really thinking or feeling (although that can sometimes be the best option).
Choosing to be happy rather than being right means you value creating understanding, or maintaining harmony and peace over insisting on being heard, making sure that other people “get” you, or teaching someone else a lesson.
Of course, if you’re being actively deceived, lied to, gaslighted, or manipulated your focus should be primarily on protecting yourself with good boundaries, rather than on avoiding difficult interactions for the sake of keeping the peace. However, there are many opportunities in everyday life to choose serenity over stress.
When you cultivate the habit of choosing happiness over being right, you will spend less time bickering and engaging in power struggles, and more time focused on acceptance, letting go, and fostering win-win outcomes.
One of the most common ways people choose being right over being happy is when someone points out something about you that shines a light on your humanity, your imperfections, or part of your personality that is still a work in progress.
The other person may say that you made a minor error, dropped the ball in some way, or didn’t follow through. If you’re focused on being right, you will immediately react with what you did that was right or highlight the fact that last time you did it correctly—completely glossing over and ignoring the fact that you did indeed make a mistake.
Essentially, you get defensive and don’t know how to lead with agreement (see my article, 5 Things Addicts Should (& Shouldn’t) Say to Partners for more about how to lead with agreement). And if you’re a person who struggles with image management or toxic shame, you will be particularly vulnerable to reacting with defensiveness, and making yourself right, as a means to prop up your vulnerable sense of self in the face of what feels like an attack.
Another way people choose being right over being happy is when someone is trying to resolve a problem for you, and rather than accept the apology or the offer to repair the problem, you feel compelled to point out and drill down about how they messed up, rather than simply accepting the apology or the offer to fix the issue. When you’re dealing with bureaucracies like insurance companies or large government agencies, this strategy can be particularly tempting.
Some people choose being right by being a perpetual know-it-all. No matter the topic, you feel compelled to add to the conversation, correct another person’s mis-information, or otherwise demonstrate your vast knowledge. Resist the urge.
So, here are 5 ways to choose being happy over being right:
- If what you’d like to add to a conversation doesn’t create more shared understanding or connection, keep it to yourself.
- When you’re agitated, activated, or emotionally triggered, it’s probably best to keep your words to a minimum.
- When it’s clear that another person needs to have the last word, and you have little interest or attachment to the outcome of the conversation, let them “win” by having the last word.
- When your spouse makes a simple error like buying the “wrong” kind of lettuce, mayonnaise, or orange juice, take the high road and let it go.
- When an acquaintance or someone you don’t know well expresses a viewpoint or belief that does not diminish or exploit others yet is diametrically opposed to yours, remind yourself that everyone has a right to their own opinions and beliefs. If you need to say something, you could simply reply, “Hm, that’s interesting.”
Sometimes it is better to lose and do the right thing
than to win and do the wrong thing.
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© Vicki Tidwell Palmer, LCSW (2018)
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