Would You Rather Be Right or Be Happy?

Would you rather be right or be happy? Don’t answer so fast.

I know it seems obvious that you’d rather be happy, but is that really accurate? Or have we become so completely obsessed with being right, that we have forgotten the ultimate goal of being happy?

I think, in general, our society has come to value being right more than being happy. What does that really mean? It means that you love winning, that you are inflexible, unwilling to seek out alternative solutions to problems. Additionally, it means you are unable to consider other points of view, that you believe someone is always right and someone is always wrong.

Does life really work that way?

Think about this for a minute. You argue with your spouse…everybody does sometimes. But for you, it becomes about standing your ground, making your spouse agree with you, having it your way…winning. When one person is a winner, that means the other is a loser. How do you think that makes the other person feel?

How is one person feeling unheard and defeated going to improve your relationship? Hint: it won’t.

Here’s what will actually happen. Resentment will build and build and build, as when a person feels unheard and not respected, this is what happens. Over time, there will be more arguments, more animosity, and more problems. So did you really win?

Good news, though…there is an alternative. You can actually decide that it’s more important to be happy than to be right. It’s not the easiest thing to do, of course, but with time, commitment, and practice, you can do it, and your relationships will benefit from this. All of your relationships, not just your romantic ones either. This notion applies equally to friends, family, and work.

Let me explain how you make some of these changes and how it can improve your life.

The next time a disagreement arises, with anyone, take a step back. Observe like you’re watching a movie. What is going on? I said XYZ and he said ABC and both of us think we are right and now it’s unpleasant and I don’t want to get into a huge argument and have one person angry and resentful about the outcome.

Then ask yourself, “What can I do to help solve this problem in a way where EVERYONE is happy with the outcome?”

Example Of a Power Struggle Gone Wrong

Dinner is in one hour. You’ve been out running errands with the kids, and overall, they behaved pretty well. They’re getting hungry, and there’s an ice cream place on the way home. They ask if you can go. You say no, and your spouse says yes. Now what?

You both stand your ground and make this trivial issue into a big fight? You allow the kids to hear you not be supportive of one another, see you as inflexible, and make a mountain out of a molehill? Just give in? Bring up every time from the past anything like this has ever happened and try to make a case for why you’re right and he’s wrong? No, No, No!

Rather, take a step back. Assess the situation. What is going on here? Kids want ice cream. It is close to dinner. I say no, he says yes. I know if they eat ice cream now, they won’t eat a good dinner. It has happened before, and it will happen this time, too. Why can’t he just see that I’m right? Wait a minute. What’s he thinking right now? He’s probably thinking that I’m so unreasonable, so rigid, and so boring. It’s just ice cream for God’s sake. Wasn’t she ever a kid? What do we do now? I don’t want to fight in front of the kids. If I stand my ground, and get my way, have I really won? Will I feel happy? Will my family be better off?

Now, ask yourself “How important is this and how big of a deal do I want to make out of it? Are there any solutions to this problem that will make everyone happy?” It may not come easily, but I guarantee there is a better solution than just saying “no” and standing your ground.

How about if you start by stating the problem out loud: “Hmmm, you all want to go to ice cream, but we have dinner plans in one hour, and I’m worried that the ice cream will ruin your appetite.” Then listen to the responses. Really listen.

Offer some possible solutions…everyone gets a baby size portion? Agree to go to ice cream AFTER dinner? Decide that no one will die from this ice cream even if they don’t end up eating much for dinner? There are many options here other than just your adamant position of “no”.

Your family’s overall happiness is worth more than you winning in this moment. Pick your battles.

When You Are a Neat Freak and He Is a Slob

The same methods would work in any situation. Let’s say your husband is a slob and you are neat freak. You can fight about it and be right until you’re blue in the head, but he’s still going to be a slob. You think it’s obvious that you’re right, he should put his stuff away and clean up after himself. He thinks you’re a crazy person who cares too much about things that don’t matter.

You will fight about this over and over and over, until you stop caring about being right. It is a solution that you can both live with that you are really seeking. And in order for that to happen, you must really be able to listen to one another and try to understand the other person’s perspective. Nobody is right or wrong here, you just have different opinions.

This is where growth happens. You can say, “Honey, I know you’re not as neat of a person as I am, and I know it doesn’t bother you at all when things are messy and all over the place. I know it hurts our relationship when I nag you about this constantly, and I don’t want to do that anymore. I would also like you to understand that I need a certain amount of tidiness in order to feel okay. I’d like to find a solution we can both live with.”

And then, make some suggestions. Perhaps, you could keep a basket where you can pick up and put the things he has left laying around into. This way, you’re not always feeling like you have to actually put his stuff away, he will always know where things are, even if he didn’t put them away, and you don’t have to live with stuff all over the place. You’re looking for a solution, not a winner. Maybe he has another idea. Listen to it.

You get the point here. Stepping back and looking at the situation for face value, brainstorming to find mutually agreeable solutions, and focusing on being happy rather than being right can really change your life. Give it a try.



Photo by Anastasiya Lobanovskaya from Pexels

Lori Freson is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Southern California. She has been working in the mental health field since 1997, and has been a licensed therapist since 2002. Lori currently works in her own thriving private practice in Encino and Sherman Oaks, where she serves the San Fernando Valley and Los Angeles areas. Contact Lori at or call/text 818-514-LMFT


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