Would You Rather be Right or Happy – By Sally Stacey


The title is a well known phrase, something I’ve asked myself in situations many a time and one I often hear being contemplated by others.

“Happy” is often the first thought when responding to this question, especially in current times where so much emphasis is placed on seeking happiness at every available opportunity. Life is too short for anything else. But there have been studies done which show that the more value people place on happiness, the less happy they become. Interesting stuff.

A study was performed in New Zealand which caught my eye where a husband, who had expressed his preference to be happy rather than right, agreed to agree with every opinion and request his wife made without complaint. The wife was not privvy to the details of the study outside of monitoring her own quality of life. Needless to say, things went rapidly down hill with the situation becoming intolerable by day 12…the husband reporting “severe adverse outcomes” including the fact his agreeableness had led to his wife becoming increasingly critical of what he did and said. (The researchers concluded that humans need to be right…and acknowledged as right, at least some of the time to be happy. )

It appears, in the case of the amenable husband, that to be happy one must be right – but does being right always make one happy? I read of another instance whereby someone decided to report a couple of her coworkers who were behaving in a dishonest fashion. She felt it right to do so but was uncomfortable nonetheless. Perhaps she was concerned about how others may perceive her actions…ratting on her coworkers, or perhaps a touch of misplaced guilt. Whatever she was feeling, it wasn’t happiness. It appears that living a life of integrity isn’t always easy.

Thinking on. What is right? We each view life through our own unique pair of perception glasses…right can be highly subjective. Pushing a point to be right can be construed as pushing home one’s own version of what is right. Perhaps, with this mind set, it’s easier to walk away from certain situations. Furthermore, can electing not to be right so another will be happy be considered a form of people pleasing? And what about the lessons that can be learned from someone accepting that they are wrong eventually?

Questions to mull over. Is it ever better to be right and process the feeling of unhappiness rather than go for the quiet life and say or do nothing or little? If you are pretty sure about something being wrong, does it make you happy by saying or doing nothing? Have you ever been in the situation of saying or doing little and regretting not taking a stronger stance? Conversely, have you ever stood your ground and regretted it? And of course there’s always that horrendous, ongoing stalemate situation….it happened in my house last year. Different views about the right way to train our newly acquired, hyper, one year old dog led to each person doing their own thing for a while…not ideal, resulting in one (albeit seemingly happy) very confused dog. For me, applying this phrase to a situation can bring about a certain acceptance and perhaps a better perspective thus allowing for clarity of thought to enter the equation. Whether or not I proceed with the notion of being right is determined in part by my checking my motives, who the other(s) involved are and the importance of the issue at hand. Often, this is not a black and white question, the answer lies in the grey.

Curious, what are your thoughts on this phrase? If relevant, how has it played out in your life?

Sally S

About Sally S

Born in Yorkshire, raised on the little Island of Guernsey...I’ve always been a curious type of person. A bit of a nurturer...fascinated by people, cultures, nature and the world at large. My mother tells me my most frequently uttered word as a young child was “why?” and I was that kid on the beach that never lay on a towel catching rays but would spend my time turning over stones in rock pools to see what lived underneath. Having lived in a few countries and explored many more..I’m always humbled and perhaps oddly comforted by knowing that I’m just a tiny dot in a vast world of interconnected life. Forever evolving, forever changing. Addiction is a large part of my adult life..when active, it was a destructive force but the existential crisis it eventually led to is something I am now truly grateful for. I don’t know what lies around the corner but one thing I’m pretty sure of, life in recovery is for living
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  1. There are many paths to the mountain top….I believe that one can, with due diligence be both right and happy, though at times this can be extremely challenging. Compromise is the key.

  2. “I thought I was wrong once but I was mistaken”….lol. That is how I used to think. My theme song should have been “Little Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong” and I would argue with a stop sign to prove my point. So grateful I don;t have to be that way today. Retiring from the debating committee has made for a more peaceful existence. Like has been shared I have learned how to pick my battles today and when I do pick one I try to state my “opinions” with as much tact and diplomacy as I can muster. Even when I still feel that the other person may be wrong my favorite phrase to end any discussion with is “you might be right.” It’s a blanket statement basically not saying that I agree with the outcome but not saying that I don’t either. It kind of keeps them guessing but with no come back to counterattack with. Most of the time that makes me (in my head anyways) both right and happy….lol. Thanks for the topic Sally. Always enjoy your writings~Love & Light

  3. Thank you for the interesting article Sally. The thing about one line sayings or slogans is that there are generally exceptions to most of them. Then, as has been said, a lot of meaning is derived from each individuals perceptions and the context of whatever the situation is.

    The need to be right at any cost is a deeply held conditioning in my family tree. It has caused no end to fights and upsets. All based on the only real enemy we have. Ignorance. Not as in ignorance of the facts. Sometimes those are correct and sometimes they are not. Ignorance of the truth. To which there is only one solution. Awareness.

    Being right, in the context of this saying, is a tool or device the ego uses to strengthen itself. Momentarily. When seen for what it truly is the need to be right drops of it’s own accord.

    To me happiness is not a goal. It is a result. The way I live will result in either fulfillment, peace, and contented happiness or frustration, disappointment, and an endless search for a future in which I will be happy but which never quite arrives. It’s always just over the hill.

    Consciously cultivating compassion, empathy, and living in this present moment, which after all, is the only moment we really can live in, brings me varying degrees of happiness and the other states of being I mentioned above. The meaning of the word “happy” seems elusive to me. However, I know what joy feels like. And peace. And fulfillment. It is enough for me to know that I have responded to another being or to myself with lovingkindness. I feel pretty happy when that happens.

  4. Great questions. Sometimes being right is not the right thing. And, being happy doesn’t mean staying happy. It comes back to the saying of “choosing your battles”. Not all issues are worth the energy spent fighting them to be right, some are.

  5. like the rooted tree
    growing out of control..yes a rooted tree that
    goes nowhere, growing out of control.. pride can
    stunt our growth..grace releases it..however grace
    is not achieved without some resistance.. all i
    can say that the worst kind of ‘right’ is
    the kind where i wish i was ‘wrong’

    the site worked.. i pasted this from your status Sal.. i have more to say but it’s my hectic mind sometimes that stunts my thoughts.. will add to it again perhaps.. really appreciate the thought provoking articles and inviting us to express ourselves openly and honestly.. xoxoxox

  6. Thanks Sally! One of the hardest things in my life to learn, was/is “compromise.” But it’s all okay if, as another reader stated, I pick my battles carefully. And I have to ask myself “how important is it anyway?”

  7. It depends on what I’m right or wrong about. When it comes to facts, I can’t handle inaccuracy, and therefore I go with being right. If it’s an everyday decision that needs to be made, I’ll go with happy. The world wouldn’t run very well (business, technology, medicine, etc), if everyone was more concerned with being happy. Happy doesn’t solve major problems.

  8. Hmmm I think if I am going to equate one with the other I will end up being neither.
    Happiness is an inside job for me and it has been achieved due to the inner peace I have been granted by my higher power as a result of recovering from a hopeless state of mind and body by working the 12 steps and doing the best to apply them in my daily life.
    If I am always right or never right I am not being very honest. The same goes for happiness. I try my best to live life on life’s terms so when things crop up they may make me selfish, dishonest, resentful or afraid. Thank God I have Step 10 to help me out when these crop up and thank the first 100 for giving me some direction when they do because they do. I am only human and I do make mistakes. I am sure people may disagree with me on this and that is okay. The cool thing is it doesn’t really make me wrong just because they think their right!
    Another great discussion Sally!!

  9. Thanks for raising a great topic Sally! From a personal perspective, I’d say I ‘choose my battles’; in terms of self-preservation, this approach to ‘being right’ is (for me) the least wearisome. Can you tell I’m the mother of teens? 😉

    Thinking about it from another perspective, it’s interesting to consider whether we are pulling ourselves away from learned or instinctive behaviour when we try to consciously ‘choose’ our reaction in these scenarios. If the former, then changing ingrained patterns of behaviour (e.g. *always* wanting to be right) might be a really good thing. If, however, a person fundamentally finds contentment in being ‘right’ or ensuring the ‘happiness’ of others, then perhaps it’s not that easy. I’m thinking the big 5 traits here and, in particular, conscientiousness and agreeableness. Will the conscientious person always find it acutely stressful choosing not to be right? Will the agreeable person always feel deeply uncomfortable choosing a course of action which might offend? In reality, of course, it’s not that simple; no-one is just one personality type and everyone has complex patterns of learned behaviour. But before trying to ‘choose’ their reaction, perhaps individuals need to bear in mind that they may find this ‘choosing’ more difficult than it seems and give themselves a break if they don’t always make the right choice – think of it as a long-term project!

    Just a thought! There are many other things to bear in mind, not least the great points raised by Bob and others.

  10. Great topic and post, Sally! Thank you so much for the thoughts.

    My mind is going in a million different directions right now in terms of how to best approach your questions. Honestly, the first thing that comes to my mind is ” happy wife happy life” in the intent and meaning that goes behind. Obviously, this phrase has more to do with putting other people’s happiness before my own.

    I guess the best thing I can say for myself, and only myself is to pray for guidance at the moment. I do not know if it can be answered in a binary type fashion.

  11. This is a great article, much to be pondered over Sally. I used to feel it was important to correct people regardless of how big or small the issue was before recovery. I also felt the need to be right no matter the consequence of my deep feelings on the matter.

    Now, I am able to let things go even if I know for a fact that I’m correct. If it’s going to effect someone, then I shall speak up. I do not feel the need to be right as I used to. I have freedom from. I don’t gauge happiness on whether I am proving a point or not.

  12. Thanks for a well-written and thought-provoking article, Sally. I feel that in some sense ‘right or happy’ might be a false equivalence. Would I rather be right or happy? Well, this was my dilemma for a while, a few years ago, during what turned out to be the final years of my marriage. I tried both. When I stood up for what I believed was my right perspective, this would lead to arguments. When I tried to let things go in an attempt to not ‘get in the ring’, this tended to send a false message to her that I believed her to be right, when in fact I didn’t (and this contradiction would later lead to further arguments). My conclusion is that in such situations, and with certain people, a lack of basic compatibility will never be resolved except in parting. When it comes to making amends to people I have harmed (as in Steps 8 and 9), being happy comes first, and being happy has come from making amends – even if, during my Steps 4 and 5 I felt the other person had done me more harm than I had done them. In this situation, I had been ‘right’ for decades! But now I was ‘happy’.

  13. Hi Sally,

    Unless it’s something of a serious nature with big consequences if things go wrong, then I’ll most likely let something go especially if it looks like it’s going to escalate. My husband and I got into such a massive argument once over a memory of a place we’d eaten at years before. Both of us were convinced we were right and the insults we were throwing at it other, it was crazy! In situations like this I try to remember to ask myself how important it will be in a years time and if the answer is very little then I’m happy to not pursue things. My peace of mind is way more important. But if something could have big consequences then yes, I will press on as long as I’m sure that I’m right. Often I will pray on it all, ask for guidance or pick up the phone and ask the advice of a trusted friend. Yes, I would prefer to choose happiness, but that’s not always the right way forward.

    Thanks for an interesting topic 🙂

  14. I think honesty is crucial in any relationship, I’d much rather someone tell me their truth than not just so as to please me. Where is the long term benefit in that? Just like your example in New Zealand, I wouldn’t last long. I won’t live in fear of the consequences of being disliked for being honest either, any reaction to my speaking the truth respectfully is on the other person. Furthermore, as you alluded to in your article, if I am wrong I’d much rather know and learn than be left thinking something is right when it is not. None of us are perfect and we all will make mistakes sometimes or get things wrong, there’s no shame in that. I think it signifies issues with poor self esteem if anyone struggles with being corrected. Thanks for the focus, I enjoyed reflecting and thanks to everybody else who has commented here.

  15. Interesting… I hadn’t heard that question since I studied A Course in Miracles many, many years ago! I certainly hadn’t thought about it in the context of which you wrote. If “happy” means “always agreeable”, then perhaps not. If “right” means closed off to anything other than your own interpretation of reality, I certainly would rather be happy. I think much of the question relies on one’s perception and personal beliefs and their interactions with others’.

  16. A Shakespearean quote leaps to mind…

    Providing you can cast off the ego

    Be compassionate… with passion

  17. Love it when an article gets me pondering!

    I’ve heard the difference between a discussion and an argument is to be open to new ideas.. an argument is proving your view is correct.. whatever the cost .. right????

    My lawyer told me he makes a decent living from folks suing over the
    “principle” of being a perceived wrongdoing. Regardless of cost or who gets hurt .. right?

    And lastly, better to keep quiet and let folks think your a fool, than speak and prove them.. right :o}

    Fun topic Sally!

  18. I like Bob’s answer a lot! I no longer HAVE to be right, even if I know I am, when the point to be made is not critical. I do think learning to be wrong sometimes is valuable. Sometimes, I’m ok letting it go even when I’m right especially if the other person is one who cannot admit defeat, ever. I know and love a few of these people. I don’t need to teach everyone but if I have an opinion on what I truly believe is right and the other doesn’t agree at times I think it’s important to hold my ground. “Say what you mean, mean what you say, but don’t say it mean.’ There have been a few times that I feel the need to make clear what I believe; and then admit that I am not the judge of other adults and all choices they make. Sometimes what I believe is wrong may ultimately be the path he/she was destined to take. I don’t always know the divine path for another.
    If that is confusing, it’s because sometimes it IS confusing. I try not to judge. I’m happier when I remember I can share what I believe; but I am not the ultimate judge. Great topic and thinking points, Sally!

  19. You can’t be confident that you’re right unless you’re willing to explore the possibility that you may be wrong.

    As Bob said, it takes some degree of comfort with yourself to be willing to be persuaded away from a position you’re invested in.

    How many times have we seen people who are wrong and almost certainly *know* they are wrong but can’t accept having their ego pricked by admitting it?

  20. I like Bob’s answer a lot! I no longer HAVE to be right, even if I know I am, when the point to be made is not critical. I do think learning to be wrong sometimes is valuable. Sometimes, I’m ok letting it go even when I’m right especially if the other person is one who cannot admit defeat, ever. I know and love a few of these. I don’t need to teach everyone but if I have an opinion on what I truly believe is right and the other doesn’t agree at times I think it’s important to hold my ground. “Say what you mean, mean what you say, but don’t say it mean.’ There have been a few times that I feel the need to make clear what I believe; and then admit that I am not the judge of other adults and all choices they make. Sometimes what I truly believe is wrong may ultimately be path he/she was destined to take! including mistakes for another. I don’t always know the divine path for another.
    If that is confusing, it’s because sometimes it IS confusing. I try not to judge. I’m happier when I remember I can share what I believe; but I am not the ultimate judge. By the way, in those moments where I KNOW I am right, but let the other person off the hook, I feel so good about myself. It is a balance of knowing when to speak up and knowing when to let it go. Great topic and thinking points, Sally!

  21. I don’t see it as an exclusive either/or question. And it depends, in large part, on one’s definitions. For me “happiness” is the pursuit of a worthwhile goal at fullest mental capacity. And being “right” is doing God’s will in my life and knowing that it is God’s will. Although I strive for both, I know that it is not always possible to be perfect as no human is. So I do my best to be both happy and right at the same time. Works for me.

  22. My preference is to be happy AND right. 🙂

    In all seriousness though, I believe that you have to pick your battles. In a home relationship, I try to be attuned to how “invested in” the question each of us is. Sometimes it simply matters more to the other person. And most often, these are actually cases where both people hold some claim to being right. So – do I care enough to make it My Last Stand? Most of the time, that’s a no.

    The other thing is that too many people will hold on to a position simply because that is the position they came in with. Learn something new? Got some additional context? Ok – great! You are right and my position is no longer tenable.

    Thing is – you do have to have some degree of comfort with yourself to “back down” as per se. Personally, I see it as a strength to learn and evolve.

  23. Thank you… I agree that it is sometimes not as easy as a slogan or a go to affirmation… In cases of Justice.. in cases of teaching… might I lean more to sticking with the difficulty of being alone in an uncomfortable View? Perhaps it is my response of finding peace even in uncomfortable times? I have found it is in the situation of looking out what is My outcome is it to hold on to something so tightly that there is no happiness or peace for anyone involved or is there a trusting of a process that peace and happiness we’ll come on the other side? I enjoy pondering during your questions today

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