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Saturday, February 1, 2014

Study finds: It's better to be right than happy

So, is it better to be right or happy? That was the subject of a study reported by the British Medical Journal on Tuesday, December 17, 2013.  This is a subject that people deal with on a daily basis as they try to make their relationships work.

Most people say it is better to be bipartisan; to not cause controversy;  to not correct people when they are wrong; to claim to be an independent when you are really a partisan voter.  The study was aimed to show if this was true; it was to see if you let the other person be right all the time made the relationship happier.

It was an interesting study because men were specifically instructed to agree with their woman (wife or girlfriend) no matter what she said, even if he disagreed with her.

For many years men, more often than not, according to the researchers, have thought that taking the high road and letting their women be right, the relationship would be happier.  These men learned to say things like, "Honey, I was wrong," even when they knew they were right.

The idea here is that to keep the marriage together the man makes the woman feel like she is right all the time. Now, whether or not this is a good strategy is what the researchers wanted to find out, although the hypothesis was that it was a good strategy.  The hypothesis would be way wrong.

The purpose of the study was this:
"The husband and wife were helping a trio of doctors test their theory that pride and stubbornness get in the way of good mental health. In their own medical practices in New Zealand, they had observed patients leading 'unnecessarily stressful lives by wanting to be right rather than happy.' If these patients could just let go of the need to prove to others that they were right, would greater happiness be the result?"
The premises of the study was that men historically would rather be happy than right.  Women, on the other hand, so the theory goes, would rather be right than be happy.  So for this reason, the women in this study were not told why their husband was agreeing with her, nor that he was told to do it.  This was all necessary in order to make this study work.

So the man agreed with everything the woman said.  Whatever opinion she expressed, he agreed with her.  The researchers wanted to find out if this would promote marital harmony.  If the man (notice upon whom the burden falls here) would simply subordinate what he thinks is right to what his wife thinks is right, the theory is, everybody will be happier. So they put it to the test.

According to the report, "Both spouses were asked to rate their quality of life on a scale of 1 to 10 (with 10 being the happiest) at the start of the experiment and again on Day 6.  It's not clear how long the experiment was intended to last, but it came to an abrupt halt on Day 12. 'By then the male participant [the husband] found the female participant to be increasingly critical of everything he did,' the researchers reported."

Despite the fact he was agreeing with her every time something came up. He was doing everything she wanted. Every request, from "take out the trash" to "do the dishes" to, "Why don't you do this?" whatever, she was always right, and he agreed with it, and there wasn't one challenge -- and she became increasingly critical of him as time went on. It did not promote the harmony that they all expected. 

It did just the exact opposite. She became so disagreeable, so critical, that he "couldn't take it anymore, so he made his wife a cup of tea," and on day 12 he revealed that they were part of a research study that she hadn't been let in on. "That led the researchers to terminate the study." The whole thing's blown. When the wife knows what's going on, the whole research project is blown.

According to the report: 
"Over the 12 days of the experiment the husband's quality of life plummeted from a baseline score of 7 all the way down to 3. The wife started out at 8 and rose to 8.5 by Day 6. She had no desire to share her quality of life with the researchers on Day 12, according to the report."
It's interesting that on day 12 the couple practically hated each other. The wife had lost all respect for the husband; the husband was miserable.

Remember, the test was he's just to agree with her, 'cause the premise here is if you take a lot of friction out of life, you're happy. Forget about being right, forget about being dominant. Just whatever. Just be bipartisan. Just try to make the other person like you. Don't disagree at all. Don't have any argument. Don't have any bickering. Whatever the other side wants, agree with them. Compromise! 

It led to utter disaster and near divorce in 12 days.

Because the wife, rather than be made happy by a constantly agreeable husband, began to nag him even more. No matter what he did, it wasn't good enough. No matter how strenuously he agreed, she didn't believe it. No matter what was going on, every effort the husband made to remove any friction whatsoever, all it did was add it. 

The report notes: 
"The team was able to draw some preliminary conclusions. 'It seems that being right, however, is a cause of happiness, and agreeing with what one disagrees with is a cause of unhappiness,' they wrote."
The study proves that by men purposely agreeing with their wives to keep the peace is not a good idea.  It also proves that a political party should not just agree with the ideas of the other party just to make people happy.  Bipartisanship, compromise, does not make people happy.

It makes the agreeing person unhappy.  It makes the person who thinks he's right all the time cocky and arrogant and condescending, and this makes the person trying to keep the peace even unhappier.    

So the lesson learned here is that you should stand up for your principles even in the face of adversity.  You should not agree just to keep the peace.  You should not agree just to keep your marriage together.  You should not compromise just to buy votes. We should not all just try to get along.  We should not reach across the aisle and agree with the other party just to try get votes by making voters happy, because it will do just the opposite.

I'm just saying here, folks, that this is what I get out of this study.  You can, and probably will, disagree with me.    

Because, as this study shows, it will not result in increased happiness; it results in less happiness. Men who do this are unhappier. When the republican party does this they lose their base.  When the democratic party did this back in the 1980s they kept losing elections because they lost their base.  

When did the democratic party start to become strong.  It was when republicans were convinced they had better compromise to get votes.  It was when democrats decided that since the republicans were compromising with them, it proved that they were right.  It gave them an exorbitant amount of confidence.  You see! 

Then Obama came along and took advantage of this.  He got some laws passed that never would have been passed if republicans were true to their ideals.  It never would have happened if republicans would have stood up for what they believed in (with Obamacare being the exception here, as republicans did stick to their ideals on that one, to the point that not one republican voted for it).

So the next time I'm at work surrounded by people who are talking about things I know are not true, I'm not going to be so eager to keep the peace.  Well, maybe not. I just don't see myself as the controversial type.  Well, I guess I do on this blog. But in the real world, I'm not very controversial.  So, I am a keep the peace guy, and I probably shouldn't.

When I go out with my wife, I never say I hate my food.  I don't because I don't want to cause controversy.  My wife, on the other hand, says every time she doesn't like what she got, and she usually gets a free meal out of it.  Plus she is happier as a result.  End. 

  1. Aroll, Bruce, Felicity Goodyear-Smith, Simon Moyes, Timothy Kenealy, "Being right or being happy: pilot study," British Medical Journal, December 17, 2013,, accessed on 2/1/14
  2. Kaplan, Karen, "Happiness is overrated: it's better to be right, study finds," Los Angeles Times, Dec. 17, 2013,,0,5791072.story#axzz2s5Kz0UWN, accessed on 2/1/14

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