Monday, May 30, 2011

“You Can be Right, Or You can be Happy.” -Unknown

When I heard this quote for the first time it was in the context of how useless it is to try to convince other people of one's opinions. The speaker was talking about how he had
become a happier person since he had vowed to never let his ego get him in arguments trying to prove to others that he was right.

Over the years I have noticed other instances where this saying is quite appropriate. I have noticed that a lot of people suffer because they -often unconsciously- hold on to beliefs that do not serve them. Sometimes it is easier for people to live in misery than to admit they are wrong. Here are some examples.

Let me start with an amusing one. I noticed this recently on the “Millionaire Matchmaker” reality TV show, which follows millionaires on a first date arranged by a private matchmaker! What caught my attention was that these millionaires and their big egos often insist on NOT taking the advice and guidance of the professional matchmaker and end up making fools of themselves on their dates! They believe they are right in what they think and do and refuse to change their beliefs on appropriate dating behavior, at the cost of continuous failure in finding love. I guess, “They would rather be right, than find a mate”.

Other groups I find often suffer from this syndrome are alcoholics (or addicts) who either refuse to accept they have a problem, or refuse to seek help because they want to quite ”their own way”. They insist that nothing is wrong with them or that they know what they are doing. They lose their mental and physical health, their money, and their social status and yet they prefer that to overcoming their ego, admitting they have a problem they cannot solve, and getting the help that they need. They would rather be right, alcoholic (or addicted) and miserable, than wrong, sober and happy.

Many business leaders unfortunately fall in this trap too. To be a successful leader capable of motivating people and leading a business to success, one needs to adapt, create consensus, listen to the opinion of experts, and admit to being wrong when one is. A leader insisting on her opinion and failing to listen to the feedback of employees, partners, or customers often leads the business to failure. Recently I read the book The Devil's Casino: Friendship, Betrayal, and the High Stakes Games Played Inside Lehman Brothers” by Vicky Ward and could not stop wondering where Lehman could have ended up had its CEO listened to some members of his executive team and “accepted” that he was going down the wrong path.

Unfortunately in many cases the effects of this need to be right go beyond the person herself and harm other people as well. Alcoholics and addicts often ruin entire families, friendships, and businesses. Business leaders who have to be right all the time impact the lives of employees, clients, vendors, and dare I say, economies. Such behavior from politicians can endanger entire nations and given our global and connected world, the entire universe. I guess sometimes the saying ought to be, “You can be right, or the rest of us can be happy”!

Would love to read your comments. Let me know what you think.  


  1. Hi Maraym, liked reading the article very much. This is a very interesting topic for me and I believe everybody challenges with their ego at a point of time in their life, if not constantly. I always wonder where is the fine line between being egoistic or turning into not a self believer. When a successful businessman makes a decision against others objections or when it does not make sense, if he succeeds then he is visionary and saw things when other couldn't and if he fails, then he is egoistic; where is that line?

  2. Great Question Farnaz! I have thought about that too and I agree that there is a fine line. It is very hard to detect it in others but you can detect it in yourself.
    What works for me is to do an internal check. I ask myself, "Am I insisting on my opinion because I am annoyed that the other person is disagreeing with me and I want to prove to them that I am right? Do I feel personally attached? Do I feel hurt?" If so, the ego is in control and I need to calm down and reflect on things with a different attitude.
    On the flip side, if I am standing by my decision/belief because I have a knowing, intuition, or vision that makes me certain about it, and if I do not care what others think about me, then it is not coming from ego. Sometimes, sticking to your belief is part of being true to yourself. In that case, and when you do not feel the need to prove to others that you are right, your belief worth sticking too. It still may be wrong! but at least it is not coming from ego. What do you think?