When I first heard this quote many years ago, I thought, “What a silly question. I prefer to be right and happy.”
After all, clearly there is an objective truth – so I thought – and my being right was nothing more than an affirmation of such attunement. Consequently, my happiness should naturally follow from my righteousness.
How naive I was.
Have you ever been in an argument with someone, each party completely justified in their opposing position? The lengths we go to (and energy we invest) in order to convince the other “side” that we are right can be extraordinary.
Why do we do that?
For starters, we are emotionally attached to the outcome. To us, this isn’t some irrelevant banter but rather a direct diatribe against our entrenched (and certain) belief.
If you had blue eyes and someone told you they didn’t like your brown eyes, you’d likely brush off their comment as meaningless, coming from an obviously visually-impaired perspective. But if they said they didn’t like you because you were selfish, you might be hurt and attempt to defend yourself.
It is only when we “buy-in” to the argument (hence the emotional attachment) that we engage our defenses. Who does she think she is calling me selfish?
Of course, the topic of debate does not matter. As long as there’s a disagreement on a position and we care about the outcome – then we’re fully engaged. At least, our ego is.
But in addition to reflecting an emotional attachment, the need to be right also masks an underlying insecurity of control. The strong desire to impose our ideas and opinions on others barely disguises our need for validation. If you agree that I’m right, then I will feel better.
Letting go of that need to be right opens the pathway to happiness.
Seek not outside yourself. For all your pain comes simply from a futile search for what you want, insisting where it must be found. Do you prefer that you be right or happy? (T-29.VII.1)
All pain comes from the belief that we can find happiness outside of ourselves. And the need to be right demonstrates that desire for external validation … a neverending quest filled with sorrow and death.
And thus he wanders aimlessly about, in search of something that he cannot find, believing he is what he is not. The lingering illusion will impel him to seek out a thousand idols, and to seek beyond them for a thousand more. And each will fail him. (T-29.VII.2-3)
Once we recognize the source of all our pain, all our sadness, and all our disappointments – then we can look honestly and ask ourselves, “Is this really what I want?”
Join us in Monday’s class where we’ll look at this need to be right and how we can just as easily – and with far more pleasure – choose to be happy. I look forward to seeing you then.